Housing vs food security: The perfect storm

There is a perfect storm brewing for New Zealand’s fresh food supply, with prime fruit and vegetable growing land being squeezed by rapid growth in towns and cities and high demand for new housing, warns a report published this month by Horticulture New Zealand

Urban sprawl, coupled with the damaging effects and increasing frequency of rain, hail, snow, frost and drought events are impacting the supply of fresh, healthy food, says Mike Chapman, Chief Executive of Horticulture New Zealand (HortNZ), an industry association representing New Zealand’s 5,500 commercial fruit and vegetable growers.

The report articulates a concern that local, district and regional decision-making doesn’t look beyond its borders and that consequently, “no consideration is given to national food supply when land is zoned for housing, or when water is allocated”.

“We need to look closely at our domestic food supply and be sure that town, city and regional planning decisions are seen in the context of impacting the whole of New Zealand’s food supply”, notes Mr Chapman. “Before more houses are placed on fertile and unique growing land and more decisions are made about water, we want there to be a pause for breath and some big picture planning”, he says .

The spread of new housing areas around New Zealand’s cities is resulting in prime growing areas for horticulture being lost, says the report, which notes that between 1975 and 2012, nine percent of growing land (or 10,399ha) was converted from horticulture to other land use. If this rate of conversion continues, it will have long-term consequences for New Zealand, placing at risk the country’s ability to feed its population, say the authors.

The report finds that, with New Zealand’s population expected to reach 5,045,000 by 2020 (based on annual growth between 1.5 – 2 percent), domestic food supply will not be able to sustain New Zealand’s future population consumption needs. While New Zealand has plenty of land available for fruit and vegetable growth, there is no strategy in place to protect this valuable land as a way to future-proof New Zealand’s food supply.

Developing a food security policy has been identifed as a central way to address sustainability concerns. “Unlike other countries, New Zealand currently has no food security policy. As the impacts of climate change and more adverse weather conditions make growing more challenging, we also need to ensure that the most appropriate land is used. This is not a region-by-region issue, but a national issue that needs to be addressed by central Government”, advise the authors.

To read the report please click here.