Speech to the International Conference on Agricultural GHG Emissions and Food Security

  • Hon Damien O’Connor

Agriculture Minister Damien O’Connor delivered the welcoming address to the stakeholder conference in Berlin. 

Ladies and gentlemen, I very much appreciate the opportunity to address you all here in Berlin at the international conference on agricultural greenhouse gas emissions and food security and I am so proud to be here as the Minister of Agriculture for New Zealand. 

I would like to recognise Her Excellency, Julia Klöckner, Federal Minister of Food, Agriculture and Consumer Protection and Chair of the Global Research Alliance on Agricultural Greenhouse Gases, for whom Parliamentary State Secretary Michael Stübgen is representing this afternoon, 

Dr Hartmut Stalb, Chair of the Joint Programming Initiative on Agriculture, Food Security and Climate Change of the EU, 

Dr Bruce Campbell, Director of the Climate Change Agriculture and Food Security Programme of the CGIAR, 

Mr Jerzy Bogdan Plewa, Director-General for Agriculture and Rural Development Directorate of the EU,  

Mr René Castro Salazar, Assistant-Director General of the Food and Agricultural Organisation of the United Nations,  

Theo de Jager, President of the World Farmers’ Organisation,  

Distinguished panelists,  

The Thunen Institute, the German Federal Office for Agriculture and Food, and members of the conference organising committee. 

Charles Darwin once said: ‘It is the long history of humankind (and animal-kind, too) that those who learned to collaborate and improvise most effectively have prevailed.’  

Darwin promoted collaboration as the key to success, and we will rely on collaboration to overcome the challenges we face.  

We need to reduce agricultural emissions, while maintaining strong economies and productive and resilient sectors capable of meeting the food demand of an exponentially growing world population.  

Another 2.3 billion people will join the global population by 2050, and the increasing food demand means we will need to produce more food in the next 50 years, than in the past 500.  

New Zealand has a low population density and a temperate climate, ideal for agricultural production. Through innovation and impressive productivity gains, helped by the removal of agricultural subsidies and tariffs in the 1980s, New Zealand can produce more food, more efficiently than ever before.  

We are not a large agricultural producer in global terms; our low population means we export a high proportion of our production.  

We’re the number 1 dairy exporter in the world, but only produce 3% of the world’s milk. We’re the number 6 beef exporter in the world, but only produce 6% of the world’s beef. 

 We live in the South-West Pacific, where our winters coincide with the North’s summers. This means New Zealand is in a position to supply food to the 90% of the global population who live in the Northern Hemisphere, outside of the North’s growing season.  

Agriculture contributes to climate change, producing about 12% of global greenhouse gas emissions, and is heavily effected by climate change with more extreme weather events, unpredictable yields and variable productivity in both crop and livestock sectors.

 As a global community we need to deliver more food of a higher-quality with less environmental impact than ever before.

 For its part, New Zealand is making a significant investment in research and development to identify options to reduce agricultural emissions, in New Zealand and internationally.

 New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has called climate change the ‘nuclear free moment of this generation’.

 Last week in New Zealand I had the pleasure to participate in a celebration of our Sustainable Land Management and Climate Change research programme. 

 SLMACC, as it’s called, was established to help New Zealand meet international greenhouse gas reduction goals, maintain profitable and sustainable agriculture and forestry sectors, and address the lack of information on the impacts, implications and adaptations needed in the face of a changing climate.  

 In the decade since its inception we have funded over 150 projects with $50 million of Government funding – some with returns 10 times the original public investment.

 As a Government we have stated clearly that we want clean water and a low emissions economy and we are working through these challenges carefully and pragmatically and with the farming sector, whose efforts in these areas are strong and a story worth sharing.

 In the spirit of what we call Kaitiakitanga, or guardianship, our work is not just about preservation, but wise utilisation of our natural resources and understanding how to best match land-use to different production types and regions.

 I come from a farming family on the West Coast of the South Island of New Zealand.  I know first-hand that it is farmers’ deep desire to be good stewards of their land – many with an intergenerational vision.   It is our job as governments to help equip them with the tools and information they need to achieve this – which then ensures we have strong resilient rural communities, something I have direct responsibility for in New Zealand as Minister for Rural Communities.

 New Zealand has long held the view that more can be achieved through collaboration than alone. It is what inspired us to lead the establishment of the Global Research Alliance in 2009. The GRA’s aim is to bring countries together to find ways to grow more food without growing greenhouse gas emissions. It achieves this by increasing international cooperation, collaboration and investment in public and private research throughout its 50-member countries.

 New Zealand has invested $65million over the past 9 years to support the GRA to accelerate and expand global research in livestock, soils and measurement. We’ve paid particular attention to the need to build capability globally having provided education and training to dozens of early-career scientists in developing countries.

 In the livestock sector we’ve found promising leads. Working with others, we’ve measured thousands of animals and have been able to identify some that emit lower levels of methane.

 We’ve screened hundreds of thousands of chemical compounds and isolated a handful that have large potential to reduce emissions. We’re undertaking world-leading research to try to develop a vaccine to reduce methane from livestock.

 We’ve carried out a global survey of ruminant animals including sheep, cattle, deer, goats, buffalo and even giraffes, and we discovered that the same groups of microorganisms dominate in nearly all rumens across a wide variety of species and animal diets.

 This study involved more than 140 scientists from 73 organisations in 34 countries. This important finding gives us some confidence that the technical solutions we’re developing can be used globally.

 We’re making good progress but there’s more to be done. 

 Recent international agreements – the Paris Climate Agreement and the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals – have raised the relevance of the GRA and the importance of international collaboration to help countries to meet their goals.

 New Zealand is small but we are clear about our responsibility to bring about positive change, facilitated by collaboration at a global scale. It is for this reason we are pleased that the GRA, the Food Security, Agriculture and Climate Change Initiative of the EU, and the Climate Change Agriculture and Food Security programme of the CGIAR came together to bring you all here to this important event.

 As a global community we face large challenges in reducing agricultural emissions, while maintaining strong, vibrant rural economies and the capability to feed a growing world population. 

 But let this conference be a forum to find purpose in the words of Charles Darwin: to “collaborate and improvise most effectively” so that we too might prevail in the face of such challenges, and opportunities.