Sustainable agriculture champion is among three new Companions recognised for contributions to science and the humanities

Dr Liz Wedderburn, one of three women who have been elected as Companions of Royal Society Te Apārangi, is being recognised for her significant contributions to sustainable agriculture, transdisciplinary research, and the advancement of science policy and agribusiness.

For 35 years she has researched sustainable agriculture within livestock grazing systems.

The president of the society, Dr Brent Clothier, said the award of  Companion recognises outstanding leadership or sustained contributions to promoting and advancing science, technology, or the humanities in New Zealand.

“The honour is reserved for those who have made a contribution to society far above and beyond what might be expected of them from the roles they have held,” he said.

The other two new companions are:

  • Dr Ngahuia te Awekotuku, an award-winning researcher, writer, activist, curator, and critic, for her outstanding leadership and boundary-breaking work in the humanities.
  • Dr Prue Williams, who has built on her experience as a soil scientist who has earned the respect of researchers and research fund managers across the globe. Her award recogniused her outstanding contribution to the country’s research, science, and innovation (RSI) sector, . using her significant knowledge of the New Zealand science system to ensure that government science policy and funding mechanisms are delivering benefit

Dr Liz Wedderburn says she was first inspired as a student by the “green revolution” and the application of science to increase global food production.

“Later the negative unintended consequences on the environment, of the technologies used, led me to seek out people who took a more systems approach,” she says.

She found those people in Australia and France and was inspired by their ability to think beyond just biology and include socio-political science: “it gave me confidence to try out innovative approaches”.

With expertise in pastoral ecology, sustainable farming, collaborative processes, and systems-thinking, Liz has provided leadership in land-water interfaces and rural futures.

She introduced the concepts of sustainable agricultural practice to New Zealand in the early 1990s when farmers were coming to terms with environmental impacts.

From there, she pioneered study groups in Waikato that included farmer, policy, and sector participants aiming to balance farm productivity with environmental outcomes.

She has worked with farming communities worldwide through co-chairing Global Agenda for Sustainable Livestock’s ‘Restoring the Value to Grasslands’ Action Network.

Knowledge exchange from Liz’s diverse global collaborations has resulted in capability development in New Zealand, which has demonstrated the need for diverse world views to collaborate and deliver on contentious outcomes.

Liz’s knowledge of integrated assessment and processes for community deliberations were recognised in her appointment to the Technical Leaders Group for the Waikato River Healthy Waterways Plan to set water take limits for the Waikato River.

Throughout her career, she has worked with Māori on land use and the ability to attain the aspirations of mana whenua for healthy land and water.

Liz was invited by the Ministry of Primary Industries to assist in developing their Māori Agribusiness Extension programme based on her experience in leading the Uruguayan Family Farm Programme.

Her appointment as the interim director for the Our Land and Water National Science Challenge recognised her expertise, collaborative approaches, and extensive networks.

In 2019, Liz was awarded the Levy Oration by the NZ Grassland Association in recognition for her outstanding contribution to the New Zealand pastoral industry.

Her leadership skills have also been recognised by her appointment to Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment’s Science Board in 2018.

Liz envisions a future primary sector that can take a systems approach right from ideation, including those people who will be impacted by the solutions both in a positive and negative way.

“And that these people,” Liz says, “will become well embedded in our communities and research establishments.”

“From this the relevant research questions will evolve and enable different knowledge systems and methodologies to be applied that will lead to the outcome or impact sought.”

Source:  Royal Society of New Zealand



Author: Bob Edlin

Editor of AgScience Magazine and Editor of the AgScience Blog