The world is learning to adapt to Covid-19 – it’s not going nowhere – and New Zealand is at a very important “survive or thrive” juncture on how it moves forward.
This is how KPMG’s head of agri-business Ian Proudfoot described NZ’s current position to delegates at last month’s Tauranga Moana Biosecurity Capital’s annual symposium – aptly named ‘Covid-19: impact, learnings and new thinking for biosecurity; strengthening our biosecurity team of five million’.
“The world is learning to adapt to Covid-19. This is something that’s going nowhere and we’ve got to come to terms with the fact it will change everything we do moving forward; and as a consequence we have to redesign, rethink, and pivot from what we’ve traditionally done,” says Ian.
“The good thing though, is people are more connected to food than they’ve ever been since WWII. The reality is the fact that people around the world, and here in NZ, have queued to get into supermarkets has brought us all to understand how important our food system is.
“The positioning of our food system as essential, has provided the industry with a platform on which it can build and move forward.”
Adapting to Covid-19
Ian says the world is starting to adapt to Covid-19 “possibly faster than we are adapting to it here”. Ian says NZ is playing a finite game believing we can eliminate this virus. “[But] the rest of the world is playing a game that is infinite and the playing fields are going to continue to evolve and change.
“We need to be responding to how those goal posts move and shift… thinking about how we avoid becoming irrelevant to those customers we currently cannot get face-to-face time with.”
He also believes, as border closures wear on, it will get harder to keep connections with overseas relationships that have been strong in the past. “Particularly as people around the world start to restart their lives and they’re not sitting at home ready to have a Zoom call at 7am or 10pm.”
Ian also suspects NZ’s overseas markets are getting much more challenging. “I can tell you that with absolute certainty [there’s] companies today that haven’t made a profit because the food system around the world is broken.
“And that is going to bite into 2021. If we get anywhere close to growing export revenues I would be amazed; kiwifruit is probably the only bright light. It’s all going to get harder.”
Ian says digital platforms have become the front door to businesses “and for food businesses in particular it’s now core to what we do”. “We need to think about the design of those solutions and give people the information and confidence so they will continue to use these new tools.”
But Ian says a real benefit for NZ is that health and safety has become an integral attribute that’s moved from the back of the pack to the front for consumers.
“Ultimately, as I look forward from lockdown, we now have people telling the safety and health story that comes with NZ’s products. It is important to leverage this given what we have invested in this lockdown,” says Ian.
What we are experiencing is going to be a landmark event in history. It will be something our grandkids read about in the history books. And it will dominate our lives for the next four-five years. I can’t see it being any less than that with what’s going around the world.
“But, for me, what has not changed is the true era-defining event for which we will be judged. That is how we respond to the challenge we’ve got with our climate.” He says that topic, which has dropped off front pages of media around the world, will soon return.
“And from our perspective how we consider nature with what we do, how we consider Te Taiao, the balance of all natural living things, is going to be critical in how we build our future forward.
“So what does all this mean for biosecurity? We’ve got a very challenging food system, but a big plus is the population now understands what the impact of an unknown disease incursion can be.
“And that’s significant; therefore I believe there is strong desire not to have another incursion across the border and another event of such national significance. So we now have the ability to leverage the army of five million and connect them to the importance of biosecurity moving forward.”
But Ian cautions that with NZ now eliminating a virus twice – both Mycoplasma bovis and Covid-19 – the risk is we find the only publically acceptable answer when we have these issues is elimination.
“The practicality is that is not likely to be the case – in some cases we are going to have to learn to live with disease faster. Therefore I think it is important we do not automatically take the approach of elimination in each case. As that could cost us a lot of money down the track.”
As NZ re-opens its border, Ian says we need to think very carefully about what that border experience looks like for those first travelers back to NZ. “It’s not going to be how it was. People coming here are going to be making incredibly conscious decisions to travel to NZ.
“The fact we’ve closed the border gives us a chance to take a really fresh look at how we bring high-value travelers back into NZ – to make sure they respect and enhance the biosecurity but also that we create a system that enables us to create a whole new way of integrating biosecurity into NZers coming in and out of the country as well.”
But the challenge is biosecurity costs money; it’s expensive. “For me, the challenge is how do you make biosecurity, in particular NZ’s biosecurity system, a valuable front-of-pack attribute that can pay for itself? How do you monetarise biosecurity?
“At the moment I think we’ve sort of seen it as a cost of doing business. But we do it a lot better than others, pretty well anybody else in the world, and if we can’t monetarise it, if we can’t make it the same as grass-fed or carbon-zero, then who is going to pay for it? I see a challenge there down the track.”
New Zealand is also starting to have the conversation about regenerative farming. “That’s a new pathway for us and requires us to think differently about how we approach these issues. We need to think carefully now about the role biosecurity plays in supporting our interpretation of regenerative farming systems. Because if we can get that right, Te Taiao becomes uniquely NZ – and we can truly take to the world a different story than is being told by everyone else.”