The primary sector has been in the gun lately for its reluctance to resolve its emissions profile. You’d almost think there’s some denial going on. Well, that might be true of some, but not of all. In 2021, a broad industry effort went into a primary sector strategy called Fit for a Better World. The strategy lays down the challenge to be sustainable, inclusive, and profitable with specific targets for 2030 and beyond. Vincent spoke to Jenny Cameron, the Chief Transformation Officer at MPI, and the leader of the Fit for a Better World Program.
What’s the problem you’re trying to solve?
The concept was started back in 2018 with the understanding that we needed to get New Zealand food and fibre as future fit for changing markets, changing customers, changing financial institutions changing, social license changing, and the changing climate. So whatever may come that we are as resilient and adaptive.
And the ‘we’ is who?
Government and industry. The concept was to be a whole of sector analysis trying to align under a shared vision for our food and fibre sector for New Zealand, given how much a part of it is of our economic success as a country, but also how critical food is for New Zealand.
Explain the three pillars: productivity, sustainability, and inclusivity. Start with productivity.
The challenge is, how do we get an additional uplift of $10 billion through the Fit for a Better World programs by 2030? When we started in the 2019 the gross export income was $44 billion and expected to reach $57 billion by 2030. The intention is to get to $67 billion, with an additional $10 billion uplift through the Fit for a Better World projects and initiatives.
Sustainability asks ‘how do we accelerate our transition to a lower emissions sector?’, particularly around meeting our obligations under the Zero Carbon Act.
And then inclusivity, how do we do all of that and make sure that we are attracting and retaining the best people that will help us on that journey?
In terms of sustainability you are very much in line with government policy – to be 24%-47% below 2017 emissions levels by 2050 and 10% below by 2030. Is there more than just that?
Yes that was the top line goal. But we’re actually doing a bit of a refresh at the moment just to round out the total, because our food and fibre sector isn’t just on farm. It’s everything from forestry to fisheries to livestock.
Then we’ve got our industrial heat. There’s a commitment by 2037 to remove coal-fired boilers. Plus we’re an exporting nation, and so shipping and airlines are a factor. Air New Zealand’s commitments are really important for how our product is received by our consumers overseas. And even though it’s a very small part of our footprint, the food miles argument will not go away.
But, yes, in terms of the job to be done for New Zealand – the nut to crack – it’s methane. And also that’s the opportunity. If we can crack that with best farm practices and the knowledge that we’ve got, especially around pastoral farming systems and in terms of the IP that will be created, then we can add that bring that to the world.
How aggressive can you be as a leadership group? For example, He Waka Eke Noa is now being opposed by a bunch of farmers, including Fed Farmers. Are you pushing back? Because it would seem to me that is the only tool available to drive us towards these goals that you’ve agreed to.
I disagree that it’s the only tool we’ve got. In the classic models of how you change a system, you’ve got your regulatory tools, you’ve got economic incentives (rewards and levies), social tools, your environment and social norming, and then you’ve got your technology as well. So He Waka Eke Noa is only one part of a whole behavior change program that’s coming up.
The first step is knowledge of your baseline, which is the Know your Numbers [farm emissions measurement] programme. Having that knowledge helps you know your options about what you can do to change and you might be able to adapt. Then there’s learning through case studies and demonstration farms, knowledge tools and trialing. So that’s where the other parts are so important too.
So a hundred percent of farmers will know their GHG by next year. That’s coming through, and that’s been rolled out across dairy, beef and lamb, and deer.
Your title is Chief Transformation Officer. How impatient do you get with the speed of transformation? All the changes you’re talking about are quite incremental. They’re working from the inside of the system. You must wake up some mornings and think, ‘gosh, I wish that there were some challenges to really upset us and give us forward’.
I’ve worked in electricity and other sectors where I’ve seen this before. I’m a strong believer in the J curve. I think that whilst it might feel slow and incremental, we’ve got to do this. Bringing the people, our farmers and our food producers with us. I think the conversation has accelerated over the last three, four years and now with this really strong focus on the baseline we are getting the awareness.
So maybe we’ll find it’s bursting the bogeyman the every farmer has to change a lot. Because, actually, we don’t know that. We’re getting the data and the tools so that people can actually measure what they’re doing.
When we look at the signals coming from the financial sector, the carbon related disclosures that are required now that’s in law, New Zealand’s is a world first in that our big companies are needing to go to Scope three emissions reporting. So that’s Fontera, Silver Fern Farms, Zespri, they’re all having to go down to that level. Our banking sector is coming to help with sustainability linked loans, our insurance sector’s now moving. So farmers are getting signals from all parts of the ecosystem
But also really importantly, what’s been fascinating for me, Vincent, is seeing how this is now not just a government-to-government sort of world, this climate change stuff. It’s the business-to-business conversations that are now driving it. It’s the bank to the companies, the bank to the customer. And it’s the big customers. It’s the Unilevers, the Nestle’s, the Mars, the Tescos, the Waitro’s, the Marks and Spencers. They’re driving that conversation all the way down the value chain on sustainability and on regenerative practices as well.
And it’s a race we want to stay at the front of.
This is an edited version of a conversation that’s available on This Climate Business podcast.