Long time no see and the proposed dam in Hawke’s Bay

It’s been nearly two years since I posted here. Two years ago I had a period without paid work and focused my time on putting together some film clips and posting them on my YouTube channel.

Soon after I started a UNDP contract in Mauritius, focused on ‘Capacity Building for Development of Climate Resilient Policies’. It was an exhausting but ultimately rewarding piece of work.

2012 proved to be my busiest year ever. I had a New Zealand contract working with kiwifruit growers and others on resilience to climate change. This was very difficult work given the unfolding effects of PSA on the kiwifruit industry and I think a general (and worrying) lack of interest in climate change. As the year progressed I had to juggle this work with two separate contracts in Samoa and another UNDP contract. For the latter I worked as part of a team completing a mid-term evaluation of the Pacific Adaptation to Climate Change (PACC) project.

Currently I’m working on another New Zealand project under the Sustainable Land Management and Climate Change programme; working with two colleagues from Landcare Research.

Meanwhile I’ve recently been interviewed by TV3 for an item on the planned Ruataniwha dam in Central Hawke’s Bay. Unfortunately, as happens with news items, they chose the sound bite that they wanted to use to fit the story they told. There was no room for some of my key messages which included:

1) The majority (more than 80 percent) of Hawke’s Bay is in hill country. So a dam that is designed to irrigate 25,000 ha of flat land for intensive dairy farming is not going to do anything to build security against current and future droughts in the region. In fact it could make future drought security worse. This needs more discussion than I’m giving right now.
2) The proposed dam is a solution without a clearly defined problem. There is no long-term strategy for the whole Hawke’s Bay region, taking account of climate change, which clearly identifies the key issues and critically looks at the different choices we have to address them. Again this needs more discussion.
3) There has been a complete lack of genuine community consultation throughout the whole process.

Back to Thailand

Earlier this year I had a phone call out of the blue from a friend in Thailand, Khun Wipa. I hadn’t spoken to her since 2007 when we were travelling and filming grassroots perspectives on climate change. She was phoning me on behalf of Ajarn Yak who wanted me to come back to Thailand to contribute to a grassroots gathering of the Agri-Nature Foundation. I was subsequently in Thailand for just over a week, from 16 to 24 March. I haven’t yet written about this trip, but it’s on my list of things to do!

The point of this is that I am heading back to Thailand next week. My initial motivation for returning was to attend the Asia-Pacific Climate Change Adaptation Forum. I will be showcasing some of the work that I’ve done over the last decade as well as helping profile the work of the Agri-Nature Foundation. I’ve already given them some assistance in the translation of some of their information. Here are the two posters that I will be putting on display:

Poster 1: Lessons from farmers in eastern New Zealand (2.33 MB)

Poster 2: Lessons from people in different countries (2.04 MB)

I’ve also been invited to act as provocateur for a session on climate uncertainty. In preparing for this last week I recalled that uncertainty was the topic of my first ever talk on climate change in 1991. I’ve certainly learnt a few things since then.

Following the adaptation forum I will again be hosted by my friends at the Agri-Nature Foundation. We’ll most likely be going to the Agri-Nature centre at Maab Uaeng in Chonburi province.

Successful completion of Sustainable Farming Fund project

Yesterday saw a successful conclusion to a two-year Sustainable Farming Fund project that I have been managing.  We completed the last of three field days that we have been running.  The turnout at the first wasn’t so good, but at the second we had about 70 people and yesterday we had 60+ people. The field day yesterday was hosted by Greg and Rachel Hart at Mangarara Station. We had a strong focus on soil health with Graham Shepherd talking on “Building soil health to better cope with climatic extremes” and providing a practical demonstration of his Visual Soil Assessment approach.

Graham Shepherd demonstrating application of the Visual Soil Assessment guide
Graham Shepherd demonstrating application of the Visual Soil Assessment guide

I’ll be posting a bit more information about the project soon, including pdf copies of the fact sheets that have been produced from the project.

Taharoa Trust field day a success

We held a very successful field day at Taharoa Trust farm on Mahia Peninsula yesterday, hosted by owners Pat and Sue O’Brien. There were about 70 farmers and rural industry people who came from as far afield as Porongahau in southern Central Hawke’s Bay and north of Gisborne. The field day was one of three being held in Hawke’s Bay as the culmination of a two-year Sustainable Farming Fund project. The focus of the project has been the long-term resilience of hill country farming in the face of a changing climate.

The day began with a welcoming Karakia from Sue O’Brien ahead of an opening one-hour session. Project Manager, Gavin Kenny, then provided an overview of the project and key outcomes. The project began with in-depth interviews held with 21 farmers spread throughout Hawke’s Bay. The focus of these interviews was to determine what farmers had learnt from past and recent droughts, as well as flood events, and what they were putting in place to deal with future climate extremes. Information shared by the farmers has been collated as part of a series of four fact sheets. Three farmers were identified for more in-depth studies. These involved development and publication of a farm environment plan and preparation of a summary case study. Three field days are being held to share the fact sheet and case study information. The first field day was held at Tim Dinneen’s family farm, Williams Hill Station, near Puketitiri on 11 March. The Taharoa Trust field day was the second. The third and final field day will be held at Mangarara Station in Central Hawke’s Bay on 10 June.

The main focus of the field days is building resilience for the future and Gavin Kenny provided a brief summary of what this actually means. The main components are: buffering capacity (eg, ability to withstand a drought or flood); self regulation (eg, ability to manage a drought without dependence on imported feed); adaptability (ie, capacity to adapt and change over time). His talk concluded with a couple of quotes from farmers who said they wanted to see working models of resilience. Taharoa Trust farm provides one such working model.

A captive audience listening to Garth Eyle's talk on the underlying geology and different land classes on the farm
A captive audience listening to Garth Eyle's talk on the underlying geology and different land classes on the farm

Garth Eyles then talked about the farm environment plan. He provided a brief summary of the geology of the Mahia Peninsula then talked about some of the key land characteristics of Taharoa Trust. On the terraces the soils are formed from volcanic ashes and loess. On the steep slopes the ash has disappeared and the soils are formed on the mudstone. Garth talked about the different land management options needed to protect the land, some of which are already being put in place. An important characteristic of the property is the 27 hectares of wetland that have been progressively fenced off over the last five years.

Mike Halliday gave a brief talk on farm shelter. Pat O’Brien has been busy removing old macrocarpa trees over the last decade and with his farm redesign programme well underway is now looking at shelter plantings for the future. One of the fundamental principals of good shelter design is to plant a semi-permeable shelter. Another important consideration is orientation for the sun, with evergreen trees planted north-south and deciduous trees planted east-west.

Pat O’Brien concluded the session with an overview of what had been achieved in the ten years since they took over the farm from Sue’s parents. Significant development work has been done, with an on-going focus towards matching land use to land class. This has involved retiring the wetland areas and an area of bush, and intensifying farming on the better land. Key developments have included: water reticulation; a greater trading component with the stock; pasture improvement and cropping; and a shift to a low input soil management programme with the Hatuma Lime Company. Pat and Sue both have a strong sense of guardianship with the farm and this was clearly reflected in the current and future planning.

Lunch was then provided before everyone headed out onto the farm, where three sites were visited.

Pat O'Brien talking about the benefits they've gained from fencing off and retiring wetland areas on the farm
Pat O'Brien talking about the benefits they've gained from fencing off and retiring wetland areas on the farm

The first site was next to the bush block, overlooking one of the main wetland areas that has been retired and fenced off. John Cheyne, a wetland expert with Fish & Game, talked about the significant value of wetland areas and the multiple functions and benefits that they provide. This includes the increased biodiversity, a filter zone, and buffering against flood events. Peter Manson, from the HBRC Wairoa office, talked about the support HBRC provides farmers who wish to protect wetland areas. Their programme provides a grant to cover half the cost of fencing materials. The O’Briens have made a significant investment in protecting the wetland areas. They’re already realising the benefits. The obvious economic benefit is the ability to focus more time and effort to intensification of the better land. When asked whether the same number of stock could be grazed with less area, Pat didn’t believe that fencing wetland areas out had affected his overall carrying capacity at all as it had been combined with an intensified grazing regime. Experiencing the increase of native plants and bird life is another very important benefit to Pat and Sue.

Pat intends to fence off the stream running through this valley
Pat intends to fence off the stream running through this valley

The second site was looking out over a valley system that was likely formed in the past when the sea level was higher. There is a relatively small stream running through this valley, which Pat is aiming to fence off in future. At this site Bill Nicholson, from Hatuma Lime Company, shared information on the benefits of a low input farming approach. When asked about the one ton of lime to one acre “rule of thumb”, Bill responded that experience shows little and often gives much better results over time. An important feature of a low input approach is the encouragement of biological life in the soil. He shared information from a farm near Wairoa that has been following a low input regime for 30 years. Questioned about whether his switch to a low input regime was because of cost, Pat responded it was more due to other factors. For them such an approach is more consistent with the sustainable farming model that they are developing.

Warwick Green talking about pasture species for long-term resilience
Warwick Green talking about pasture species for long-term resilience

At the third and final site Warwick Green from Seedforce talked about pasture species for future resilience. Warwick is working with the O’Brien’s to improve their pasture. As a farmer with more than 30 years experience with pasture breeding, Warwick has a wealth of knowledge to share. He talked about the need to be much more focused on matching pasture species and variety to the desired use and land class. He commented that resilience in pastures is about having a farm plan and a range of pasture species all chosen for the specific purpose intended in different parts of the farm. Advance planning is essential. He suggested that with a greater frequency of warmer, drier, conditions in future we made need to look outside the square to what the Australians and others have been doing. In summary, he said there are plenty of options out there, but perhaps not enough pasture specialists anymore. Mike Halliday then gave a quick description on how a shelter system could be applied to the block of land being viewed using existing fencelines and contours.

The day was concluded with a thank you to Pat and Sue, who were presented with a copy of the Hawke’s Bay ‘Guide to Successful Farm Forestry’. Feedback on the day was very positive with the right mix of good information and seeing what was being done on the farm.

Interviewed on Rural Delivery

I was one of the subjects of a segment on Rural Delivery on TV1 this morning. I was interviewed several weeks ago, along with Tim Dinneen, a Hawke’s Bay farmer who we had previously interviewed as part of the two-year Sustainable Farming Fund project that I am managing.

The interview with Tim and myself was screened this morning and is now archived. Go to Chapter 2 for the 10 minute segment. I’m not sure if this can be viewed from overseas.  In case you can’t view it there is at least some background material to the interview on the Rural Delivery website.

A letter of thanks

Dear Everyone!!

Late last year my family and I made a decision … my older sister and I had sold our Mum’s small house in New Zealand. We had a choice, either pay off the mortgage on our own home or travel and document grassroots perspectives on climate change. Of course you all know what we chose to do.

It took a huge effort to organise our journey, but we could never have done it without all of you. In various ways you all helped us along the way. I want to especially mention Khun Tuenjai and her amazing network of people in Thailand. You organised such a busy itinerary for us to start our journey, but it was such a rich experience and we met so many warm, generous people in your country… too many to name here. After Thailand we were on our own a lot more and it was very hard work at times to meet and film people and places. But we managed. Viet Nam was hard, but we have some very good friends there who did their very best to help us. Our brief stay in India was greatly helped by Andy in New Delhi.

Nepal was both challenging and inspiring … for Lena, Ali and I it was truly a highlight of the journey to walk together for 19 days and to cross Thorong La Pass (5400 metres). Amidst illness and long days walking we managed to capture a few gems on film. I greatly enjoyed meeting Ngamindra and his colleagues in Kathmandu and I sincerely hope we can find a way to work with and support you. Everything in Egypt came together at the last minute, but again we met such warm, hospitable people who did their best to help us. Thankyou to Angela and Selim, and to Prof Zakharia for compelling me to go out to the Western Desert where we again met some wonderful people at Bahariya Oasis … thankyou Ahmed and Corien.

In Italy I have to thank Marco and his small team and I sincerely hope we can keep working together and find ways to work with all of these other wonderful people we have met. And who would have imagined the connection with Katharina and Alfredo in a beautiful valley in Umbria … a place we went to because the accommodation was a good deal and it looked nice! In Milan, thankyou to Iva and Paolo for having us in your home. We experienced the same warmth again with the Galli family in Lugano. Our time in France was too short, but thanks to Remy for having a bit of time to meet and talk… and to Jean-Pierre and Claire in the south of France for your wonderful work. Unfortunately I’m not able to communicate to many of the real grassroots people we met … farmers, village leaders and others … Thankyou to those of you who helped me meet all of these people.

A special mention goes to my cousin, Michael, who has done such a wonderful job with the blog page. And to my big sister Jill for buying me such a great hat!…. and to everyone else who I haven’t mentioned by name!!

We’ve come to the end of our journey now. On Saturday, 7 July we leave London for New Zealand. Lena is staying on here until late October and has already started a job here in London. For me the last week or so has been a time to rest and reflect. I have a lot to do when I get home, not least of which is to start earning some money again!! I still don’t know yet how I’m going to produce a documentary out of all that we’ve done. But it will happen somehow.

Reflections from Stonehenge and Old Sarum

For most of our journey we’ve been experiencing warm, often very hot, weather. Not so since we came to England! Temperatures have been in the late teens to low 20s. There was flooding last week, including in Doncaster, South Yorkshire where Karen’s Aunt and Cousins live. On the BBC news website someone suggested that there was a need for reafforestation in many parts of England, in hills that were deforested at least 500 years ago. A big source of the problem, someone else said to the media, is that there have been too many housing developments in flood plains since World War 2. Along with these developments have been storm-water drainage systems and other infrastructural developments (such as motorways) that have tended to be contrary to, rather than in harmony with, natural water flows. The experts say that climate change is a factor. In the past floods often occurred after cold winters, with snow melt. Not so now, they are more a result of unseasonal rainfall events such as has been experienced here over the last week. What is the real source of the problem, what are the right solutions? The reality of the early 21st century is that these issues are the legacy of centuries, perhaps thousands of years, of human activity that has often been contrary to nature and natural processes.

What lessons are there to learn from the past? Visiting Stonehenge yesterday was cause for some reflection on this question … a place that first had a human presence around 5000 years ago in an environment that was originally forested. But from listening to the audio commentary as I walked around it is clear that we have many more questions than answers. There is an awful lot that we are very ignorant of, but we’re not very good at acknowledging our ignorance in all of the things we do in our modern world. We drove down the road to Old Sarum, the subject of what I consider to be a very powerful painting by Constable. A painting that to me is a reflection, actually a question, on the right relationship between human and nature. It was a Constable-like day with many clouds in the sky, wild and windy, a bit of sun trying to break through.

Reflections from Stonehenge
Reflections from Stonehenge
A 'Constable' scene ... looking towards Salisbury from Old Sarum
A 'Constable' scene ... looking towards Salisbury from Old Sarum
A view towards Old Sarum, just another hill from a distance, but a hill with 5000 years of human history.  Fields and sky dominate now
A view towards Old Sarum, just another hill from a distance, but a hill with 5000 years of human history. Fields and sky dominate now

The end of this journey is near and it’s a beginning of another phase that I expect to be very challenging. Thanks to my Mum’s estate, I found the resources to buy professional film gear and head off on a journey. I found support from some amazing people along the way, firstly from our amazing friends in Thailand, in particular Khun Tuenjai, and then from others in different places. I don’t have the resources to do any more. It’s time to get back to New Zealand and start earning some money again. But so many people have given so much and shown belief in me and what I’m doing. I’ll keep on working as well as I can to make something out of all of this.