Watch video: In the sixth of our 10-part video series, The Way Forward, Rod Oram looks at big new ideas that can lead our response to climate change
Globally, the way humans use land for farming and food production is the largest single source of the greenhouse gases causing the climate crisis.
In New Zealand, farming is overwhelmingly our largest source of such gases, accounting for almost half of our national total. Fonterra and its farmers alone account for 21 per cent.
Yet, better ways of farming and more climate compatible food choices are two drivers of increased biodiversity and ecosystem restoration. Thus, we can turn our greatest climate liabilities into our greatest climate assets.
As George Monbiot argues in his latest book Regenesis: Feeding the world without devouring the planet: “Farming is the most destructive human activity ever to have blighted the Earth.” Thus, land use is “the issue that makes the greatest difference to whether terrestrial ecosystems and Earth systems survive or perish.”
Such success, however, will take a complete transformation of global food systems. But in New Zealand most farmers have maxed out their systems.
They and their representative organisations argue they need to make only minor, incremental changes in their practices to stay in business.
This runs counter to the global shifts underway. New Zealand is conspicuously absent from them, as was obvious, for example, at the world agriculture day at COP27, last year’s UN climate summit in Egypt.
Yet there are some ambitious new food and farming pioneers in New Zealand who are making good progress and attracting global attention. One of the best examples is Leaft Foods, co-founded in 2019 by John Penno, who had led the creation of Synlait Milk, and Maury Leyland-Penno who had been a senior executive at Fonterra.
In this episode of The Way Forward, we visit them in Canterbury, where Leaft is developing ways to extract rubisco protein from the leaves of commonly grown forage crops to turn that into a raw material for new foods. Meanwhile, the plant residue is fed to animals. More than just a product to compete with animal and other plant-based proteins, Leaft aims to develop whole new food production systems that reduce the environmental impact of farming, while providing consumers with great tasting and highly functional protein nutrition.
One sign of its progress: last April it secured US$15 million ($22m) in its Series A investment round led by Silicon Valley-based Khosla Ventures, with participation from Ngāi Tahu Holdings via their New Economy Mandate, ACC’s Climate Change Impact Fund, and NBA Basketballer and impact investor Steven Adams. Khosla Ventures was one of the pioneers of green tech venture capital and is today one of the global leaders.