Sunday, February 12, 2012

Crafar Farms

I’ve been thinking about the sale of Crafar Farms a lot recently. I don’t normally watch much news. In case you are like me, the brief is that Crafar Farms is being sold to a Chinese company. This is creating some ah, controversy and angst across New Zealand.
What bothers me about the sale is not that it is going to foreign ownership. Don’t get me wrong, I do not want foreign ownership of NZ farms. I’d much rather have NZ farmers own our own farms.

What really worries me is how ignorant we seem to be (myself included) about this issue. And how unsupportive, even downright nasty some of us can be towards the government that we as a nation have elected. A government that may or may not be making great decisions, but who is trying. I just feel that whether we like a politician and agree with their motives or methods or not, they do at least deserve our respect. They have taken on an incredibly hard task, and one in which they are never going to please everyone (and are pretty much guaranteed to only hear from those who are disgruntled!). They have opened their private lives to public scrutiny and media frenzy. That takes guts. It deserves at least our grudging respect, if nothing else. And our prayers.
So, the ignorance.
Anyone would think, listening to some folks, that the sale of Crafar Farms is all the government’s fault. But they seem to forget a few things. Here’s the gist of it (thanks to Boyo for some of the research!):

Crafar Farms is privately owned.

It has been in receivership since 2009. That means it owes a lot of money (specifically, it owed $200mil to two banks and a rural finance firm – plus interest during the three years it has been in receivership).

It has been poorly performing. Which might account for why it is in receivership! Apparently the Chinese company looking to buy it (Shanghai Pengxin) are going to put in XXX$mil in the first xxx years alone in needed upgrades to get the farms producing profitably. While it is looking like it will have to be sold to this company, they sound like they plan on having NZ Landcorp management, use Fontera infrastructure, and help promote NZ dairy products more in China. So while things may change later, it does at least look like they are trying to be friendly in their take-over bid!
I feel that while the NZ government has had to approve the sale of these farms due to the rather large price tag, they are not the creators of the problem. Therefore they cannot be the solution either, despite our deep desires for them to ride in on white horses and save the day. The receivers turned down an offer of $170mil from NZ business man Michael Fay to take the $210mil offer from the Chinese firm (which is quite possibly still not going to cover the debt, depending on how well these farms have performed the past three years). If you were going to be out of pocket by $40mil would you worry too much about who was going to own the farms? Probably not. And lets just be realistic, we are dealing with banks and finance companies. Money is their business. And they are probably not NZ owned anyway (do we have any NZ owned banks left???).
What really bothers me, concerns me in all this? That we are so quick to blame our government for allowing overseas buyers to take over farms that we as a nation do not seem to have the capital to run, while we will sell our own homes to foreigners any day of the week. Yup. Ever thought to check when you sell your house whether it was bought by a hardworking Kiwi couple, or an Australian investor? Probably not. See, it really doesn’t enter into our heads most of the time. Then there are all the other times we sell our country cheap. Bought any appliances lately? Made in….wait for it…CHINA! Hmm. There seems to be a bit of an anomaly here. All up in arms about sale of land to China, yet here we are running off to the store every week and buying Chinese cars, Chinese tvs, and even Chinese food.
Have you read a few food labels lately? You’d be surprised just how many of them state “Made from local and imported ingredients.” And the scary thing? By law, they don’t have to state what or how much was local and how much was imported. They don’t have to say the country of origin. Which means that we are blithely eating food produced in conditions that are less than healthy (not wanting to make this entire post about China, but I do have to say that I’ve read disturbing reports about pesticides/etc used in Chinese food – exploding melons, heavy metals, etc – low industry regulation, low voice by those who grow the food, and high need for income results in poor standards).

Rice bran oil, doesn't say where it is made!

Crayola felt pens, made in USA, assembled in Australia!

Pams jam, one of those "local and imported" cocktails!
We just don’t seem to realise how big an impact all these small purchasing decisions have. We are worried about a large scale farm sale, which we probably should be. But we are not concerned at all about how often we are buying NZ made (or rather, not buying NZ made) at the shops. If we want to ‘go off’ at our government, then we should first look at our own lives. Stop buying anything that is not produced in NZ. Then you have the right to tell off the government for allowing the sale of our land. Seem a bit extreme? Maybe. But I am really serious here. Governments made decisions. Some helpful, some not. We can’t really control how they go about making those decisions. Despite democracy, they sometimes decide to do things that most of us disagree with. But what we can control, is what we do with our own money. And if every Kiwi household started really supporting our local growers, local artists, local businesses, and local industries, they would flourish. Our nation would grow more wealthy, and then maybe we wouldn’t have to worry about whether there was an NZ owned business wealthy enough to purchase a large group of farms in receivership!
The question is, are we prepared to pay more? Or is it all about the bottom line, and the perpetual what’s-in-it-for-me? I bought NZ raised bacon this month. Have to admit, I nearly didn’t. There was other stuff on sale, but it didn’t say it was fully NZ produced. I so wanted to buy that cheaper bacon. I could have saved several dollars. Several dollars that I could have spent on more food. But I chose to buy the NZ made instead. But if it was a bigger purchase, could I still have done it? Would I choose something at $200 if it was made in NZ, over something half that price that was made in Indonesia, China, Thailand or somewhere else with cheap labour? Why do you think so many of our NZ industries have either curled up and died a slow death, or moved production offshore? They don’t get enough support in order to remain a New Zealand made product. We bought a stroller this month too. Made in China. Now Chinese workers need wages too, I seriously am not trying to point the finger at China here! But it scares me that I didn’t even stop to consider where that stroller was made. I only know where it comes from because of the shiny bright sticker on the brake bar! We bought it because it was a good stroller. But mostly we bought it because it was a really, really good price. I feel just a little bit materialistic, money focused, and not very pro-NZ. The sad thing is that if I’d not been reading about Crafar Farms during the same time frame, I’d probably never have even thought about where our stroller comes from.

The truth about our fabulous new stroller, a well-loved US brand, but made in China.
So that’s what has been going through my head in recent weeks. Wondering just how many of our smaller decisions reflect the bigger things we as a nation tend to get riled up about. Wondering how much of a difference my small purchasing decisions make. I think they must make a difference, all add up somehow. After all, there’s a whole lot more ‘clean and green’ products on the market now than there were seven years ago when I first started buying plant-based cleaners and personal care products. Most of that is probably due to rising consumer demand, as they’d not be able to create these products if enough people weren’t buying them to make them financially viable.

Anyway, just some food for thought. How patriotic are we, really? How much do we take our beautiful country for granted?  How often do our actions provide jobs and a future for New Zealanders, and how often do they undermine that?

Ps – some of the info about Crafar Farms if you want it here and here.

1 comment:

MaxineD said...

Yes we have tried to 'buy local' and buy NZ made, but as you say, it is not always the cheapest option by far, and like you with a limited income, sometimes the best intention gives way to necessity.