Associate Agriculture Minister Jo Luxton, at the launch of the Sustainable Food and Fibres Future Project: Humble to Hero, agreed with the Deputy Chairman of Onions New Zealand, Kevin Wilcox, that good things happen when industry can come together to achieve its shared goals.
It was even better when government can play a role in helping them reach those goals too, she said.
Addressing an audience gathered to celebrate the tenacity and entrepreneurship in the onion industry, Ms Luxton said despite its humble reputation, the industry deserves more recognition.
New Zealand is the eighth largest onion exporter globally by value, with exports representing 4 per cent of the global onion trade, and it pumps $137 million back into our economy.
“So, it’s in our country’s best interests to not only hold this position, but be ambitious, and boost our competitiveness internationally even more,” Ms Luxton said.
The Humble to Hero partnership was one of the first programmes approved following the release of the Government and food and fibre sector’s Fit for a Better World strategy.
Fit for a Better World is focused on increasing productivity, improving sustainability, and being an inclusive food and fibre sector.
The strategy is well-aligned with what the Humble to Hero partnership aims to achieve, particularly around diversifying exports, growing emerging horticulture sectors, improving waste streams, and ultimately growing the sector sustainably to create more jobs in rural New Zealand, Ms Luxton said.
“With all that in mind, it was a smart move for our Government to choose Onions New Zealand to partner with on this 6 million dollar programme through MPI’s Sustainable Food and Fibre Futures fund,” she said.
“Through this programme, we will invest close to 3 million dollars over six years, which will work to deliver sustainable returns to onion growers and exporters. This includes discovering new opportunities to increase our access to diversified global markets.”
The launch this week marked almost two years to the day since the Humble to Hero programme began, with the original launch being cancelled due to COVID-19 restrictions.
“So, while the invitation calls this event a launch, it is somewhat belated – so instead, let us call it a ‘celebration’,” Ms Luxton said.
“Two years is an ideal point to celebrate this programme and take stock of everything it has achieved so far, despite all the odds.”
Like many other industries in the horticulture sector, the New Zealand onion industry has faced some incredibly tough years, the Minister noted. COVID-19, biosecurity threats, shipping rates, and extreme adverse weather events had all taken their toll.
The sector has also benefitted from New Zealand’s Free Trade Agreement with the UK, which removed the eight percent tariff on onions, and the Government is looking forward to the EU FTA entering into force soon as well.
The immediate challenge – the Minister said – is to show the world New Zealand has a reliable and traceable product, that it is tackling industry greenhouse gas emissions, that it is exploring smarter options to reduce waste, and that it is embedding sustainable growing systems more widely.
“By demonstrating these things, we will show our value and point of difference to the most discerning consumers across the globe. And from what I know about your sector already, it’s clear that you are all up to the task.”
Source: Associate Minister of Agriculture