There has been a lot of debate about the Crafar Farms deals, with some kiwis dead against it, some all for it and a minority even pulling out the race card, because no one really kicked up a stink when farmland was sold to James Cameron. However from a “big scheme of things” point of view, even though these deals are very bad for New Zealand’s long-term economic health, they aren’t the biggest fish we have to fry as a nation.
Everyone can agree that New Zealand has an economy reliant on agriculture and farming. Of this dairy exporting is our largest earner, and our own Fonterra controls 1/3 of the world’s international dairy trade.
Other developed countries with traditional agriculture reliant economies around the world like Sweden and Denmark are already miles ahead exporting scalable goods and services like technology, while New Zealand still continues to rely on its agricultural background to compete globally. However, land is a scarce commodity. You can’t make more land to increase your exports, whereas other countries who have invested in technology can easily up manufacturing and export more electronics/medicines/whatever.
The argument of whether or not the sale of these farms can or can’t go through is secondary, the debate around how the country intends to remain competitive in the future really needs to be the central issue. If we are prepared to sell our farms to overseas buyers, we had better get moving and begin investing in new ways to bring economic wealth to the country. Even if we aren’t prepared to sell the farms we’d better get a wriggle on, because this country will never be able to grow economically beyond a certain point if we put all our economic eggs in one basket. As New Zealander of the Year 2011 the late Sir Paul Callaghan said “We need to lift our eyes above the land.”