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Ministry Statements and Speeches 2013

Opening Remarks for International Year of Family Farming

Speech delivered by H.E. Mr Jim McLay, Permanent Representative of New Zealand 22 November 2013


Director-General Jose Graziano de Silva;
Assistant Secretary-General Thomas Gass;
Special Ambassadors-designate;
Distinguished Representatives;
Ladies and Gentlemen -

Welcome to this launch of the International Year of Family Farming. 

My family, on both sides, came from family farms.

All my grandparents, and my mother, grew up family farms.

As a teenager, in my vacation time, I milked cows and bailed hay on a family farm.

That’s not surprising:  since the birth of agriculture in New Zealand some 170 years ago, farming has been the backbone of our economy, and most of that has been, and continues to be, family farming. 

So, when I got up at four in the morning to bring in the cows for milking, I was following a long and proud tradition that continues today.

For New Zealand, family farming has evolved from scratching a living on newly-cleared land to becoming the world’s most efficient agricultural producer and its largest exporter of dairy products; achievements that have made us probably the only country to have achieved developed status from a largely agricultural base. 

In that time our family farms have confronted – and still confront – many of the challenges and opportunities we’ll hear about today. 

If we think about the key steps in the evolution of family farming in New Zealand, an early major breakthrough, in the 1880s, was the development of refrigerated shipping, allowing us to export meat and other perishables to the other side of the world.  

But other milestones relied less on technology and more on software:  education, with the opening of a university specialising in agriculture in 1927; the development of strong rural organisations, including cooperative models; policy reforms, such as removal of agricultural subsidies; and trade reforms, which have opened our economy to the world and grown our export markets. 

More recent developments have included diversification from traditional production: adding value to products on the farm; growing new crops and animals – first it was kiwifruit, but we now also grow tea and saffron and we farm ostriches and deer; and even have a thriving farm tourism industry, providing homestays and farm holidays. 

At the same time, New Zealand is engaged in assisting both our island and continental partners to strengthen their family farming.

We’re about to embark on a major project to identify a range of outputs towards economic, social, productivity and environmental outcomes.  

Our role is to help ensure that the full impact of investment is realised at the family farm level, through effective technology transfer and informed policy; and it involves activities like transfer of pasture productivity improvement technologies, building advisory services to farms, and developing rural networks to support effective change.

We’ve also been working with Pacific Island countries which are looking to develop export markets for the produce of their family farms; and we are seeing interesting developments in the Pacific with niche products and the potential for organic agriculture. 

Underlying all these examples are elements that have been identified as objectives for the International Year of Family Farming: whatever the starting point of a family farm, whatever stage of development a country has attained, successful and sustainable development of family farms will require conducive policies; knowledge and education; technical support; and the development of synergies with broader processes and fora. 

And so, right at this time, as we discuss the post-2015 development agenda, this International Year will give us the opportunity to explore the place of family farming in our collective, sustainable future. 

It will be relevant to many targets and indicators which are under discussion: poverty eradication, food, education, health and water. 

And let’s not forget oceans, because the International Year of Family Farming also includes fisheries.

Current climate change discussions, and the Secretary-General’s climate change summit next year, remind us of one of the major challenges faced by all family famers.

The impact of any changes in climate will require new methods, technologies and better information for family farmers.  

Family farmers must be part of the solution to growing more food – enough to feed 9 billion people by 2050 – without growing carbon emissions; and New Zealand is firmly committed to that through its Global Research Alliance.

When I asked what New Zealand farmers were planning for this International Year, I was delighted (but not surprised) to learn that one of the groups leading the planning was Rural Women New Zealand. 

New Zealand has been truly blessed by generations of well-educated rural women who’ve brought creativity and innovation to family farming. 

Just this week, representatives of fifty farming organisations met at the New Zealand Parliament to share information about the key issues facing family farming, and to develop plans for research and action based on that information, and to agree a programme for this International Year. 

They addressed issues such as succession planning, the price of land, establishment costs and the need to upgrade plant and machinery to remain competitive in an evolving market.

It’s estimated that, globally, there are two and a half billion family farmers; and it’s through this International Year that we can focus on their challenges and opportunities, and on the major contribution they will make to the post-2015 development agenda.   

One of the great global achievements of the past generation has been the world’s increasing ability to feed itself; an achievement in which family farms have played a critical role.

It’s a shared achievement of which we can all be proud, and of which we can all be reminded by a beautifully descriptive New Zealand Māori proverb:  Nā tō rourou, nā taku rourou ka ora ai te iwi - with your food basket and my food basket the people will thrive.

What better objective could there be, Ladies and Gentlemen, than that of filling the world’s food baskets?; and who better to do it than family farmers?




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Page last updated: Tuesday, 26 November 2013 12:00 NZDT