Regenerative Design in a post-pandemic future for New Zealand

Regenerative Design in a post-pandemic future for New Zealand

The Covid-19 pandemic and the associated lockdown has been a time for many to reflect on many things.

I find it amazing to see how people’s behaviour has changed in a few short weeks. Normally, when I run or ride my track in the morning I don’t see a soul. Now, it is always quite busy with people out enjoying nature and time with each other, their kids or dogs. It is great to see so many parents and kids spending time together while walking or riding. Almost everyone smiles and says hi as you pass.

We seemed to have moved to a different pace of life. We are meeting our neighbours and for the first time for many of us, we are having organised small gatherings with them. At a distance of course.

Most seem to be enjoying the pausing of day to day pressures and the constant rush to be somewhere, to do something, to consume, to accumulate! And we appear to be better for it and so is the world. Reports from all over the world are documenting greater environmental health with clearer waters, cleaner air and the return of wildlife.

Isn’t it obvious that we have been pushing resources beyond their ability to deliver and this has become our new normal?

A powerful symptom of a broken system

I’m not a conspiracy theorist and don’t think this was planned in any way. It is something that has evolved and was inevitable. We have let convenience and capitalism become our yardsticks, but we haven’t realised how much we have given away in this extractive search for what? Wealth, possessions, happiness, health? Or something else?

Now we have been made to stop we are beginning to realise that this approach doesn’t deliver for us. It appears there are consequences beyond what we could imagine.

While some of these consequences are obvious, there are many others which we might not yet connect like climate change, water quality and availability, social equity, poor engagement in the work force, health and food nutritional quality.

Yes these are all interconnected and in poor shape as unintended consequences of our current approach.

So, let’s take this opportunity to stop. Let’s look at the opportunity this short reset has opened up. But if we are to make a sustained change we need to take a different approach. If we go back to the same system, we will go back to where we were and there is clearly no future in this.

Regenerative design as part of the solution

We need to redesign, but this redesign needs to be based on regenerative principles. Regenerative is living. The key difference about living systems over any other is that they have the ability to regenerate themselves and this ability does not come from any one place and does not require external inputs. The connections between the parts of the system support this ability.

Our current paradigm is intent on pulling these systems apart in the belief that we can better control the outcomes if we focus on parts not wholes. This is partially correct and we will get predictable outcomes but it will be at the cost of the health of the system. This is not the way forward. We need to identify the whole and the interconnections that should be part of this whole. Decisions need to be made and policy set which include all involved as decision makers and create conditions for the health of the whole, not just a small part of it.

Stimulus packages for recovery from this disruption need to look at long term sustained regenerative change across multiple sectors. It appears this may not entirely be the case as some of the potential projects under discussion are projects that had previously been shelved because they did not meet ecological and/or social compliance. Unfortunately. some of these are now being put back into consideration. It seems it is easier to change the law than redesign the project.

Agriculture as a viable solution

New Zealand will inevitably lose significant income from tourism and education and will look partly to agriculture to help fill this hole and bring us out of the likely recession. Agriculture can do this, but the easy solution is to simply increase commodity production of goods with more inputs and greater potential for harm to climate, water and animals.

I hope we do not go down this path. Instead, we should be considering ways to add greater value to our products with better returns to producers. We should connect with markets that value the New Zealand story, the quality of our goods and our point of difference.

Again, lets take this opportunity to consider what we want agriculture to look like in this country and redesign around these values.

Signs to date are not good when we consider the results so far in lockdown, where big business has prevailed and profited at the expense of small businesses throughout New Zealand. Small businesses are the back bone of our economy. In times of crisis as has been demonstrated by farmers throughout the country, small businesses just knuckle down and get on with it and weather the drop in income. Our way forward must support these businesses.

Yes, we are under financial and time pressure, and we all want certainty that we will be OK. But this is a complex problem so effective solutions can not come from a linear or reductionist approach. We all must recognise the need for a different approach, one that is based on holism, equity, mutualism and is decentralised and developmental.

This may be our last chance to get this right and not leave our future generations with a long term ecological and economic debt.

I don’t have all the answers, but I know that coming up with the right solutions for New Zealand’s future needs to include a cross-sectoral approach with multiple sectors charged with working together to create conditions for our future health across all sectors, not just some at the expense of others.

And I know that this is a critical crossroads where the decisions that are made in the coming weeks and months will have long term effects on our health and our country. Let’s make the right decisions.

Ata Regenerative are at the forefront of regenerative agriculture practice in New Zealand. With 17 years working in the regenerative space and as the only EOV provider in the country, Ata Regenerative can assist with your transition to farm practice that focuses on the regeneration of soils, increased productivity and biological diversity, as well as economic and social well-being. To find out more, contact us here

Dr Hugh JellieApril 15, 20200

Dr Hugh Jellie

Dr Hugh Jellie is the founder of Ata Regenerative and has spent 17 years researching farming systems and regenerative agriculture around the world. He now helps farmers, organisations and individuals change to deliver improved environmental, social, financial and health outcomes.