Making Auckland’s food systems more equitable and sustainable

25 June 2023
Te Ao Māori

Our local food systems need to quickly adapt to become more resilient, sustainable and equitable due to the impacts of climate change and social responsibilities. Everyone can play a part to support positive action - whether it's supporting small businesses, protecting our productive soils or increasing the supply and demand for local, seasonal and low carbon food. 

Our common goal is a sustainable food system for Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland. This will be unique to our people, whenua, environment, needs and culture. According to a UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) definition, a sustainable food system needs to: 

  • be grown with low environmental impact 
  • contribute to food and nutrition security 
  • support a healthy life for present and future generations 
  • be protective of biodiversity and ecosystems, 
  • be culturally acceptable, accessible, economically fair and affordable, and 
  • be nutritionally adequate, safe and healthy, while optimising natural and human resources. 

Our food system has a big impact on our carbon emissions . . .  

Food is one of eight priorities outlined in Te Tāruke-ā-Tāwhiri: Auckland’s Climate Plan

Our current food system is based on a linear ‘take–make–waste’ model where every aspect, from production and distribution to consumption and waste, is unsustainable. For example: 

  • our production methods deplete precious soil resources, are dependent on fossil fuels, and lead to excessive nutrients in ground water 
  • our food often travels great distances 
  • Aucklanders send 100,000 tonnes of food waste to landfill each year, and 
  • nationally the food system makes up 24 per cent of Aotearoa’s consumption emissions.  

. . . and our carbon emissions have an impact on food production. 

Any model food system needs to factor in physical risks that threaten food production now or in the future. The Tāmaki Makaurau Economic Climate Change Risk Assessment (2022) notes a number of physical risks to the food and beverage sector, and The Aotearoa Circle notes additional physical risks (such as increasingly volatile production), and transitional risks (such as loss of identity and degradation of mauri for rural communities and agriculture operators).  

Climate change will lead to longer periods of drought, more intense storms and flooding, and an increasing prevalence of pests and diseases. For Auckland, specific threats include flooding of, or storm damage to, low-lying coastal farms, along with severe seasonal water restrictions. 

From challenge to opportunity 

Developing a sustainable and equitable food system offers limitless opportunities for innovators, growers, suppliers and other stakeholders to connect and collaborate. These can be individual or community, private or public sector.

To create a low carbon, resilient local food system that gives all Aucklanders access to fresh and healthy food, Auckland’s Climate Plan lists the following priority actions:  

Action 1:  Support primary industries and small businesses to increase food security, reduce emissions, and build economic and climate resilience.

  • For instance, this could involve identifying, developing and sharing best practices and technologies (in, for example, agritech or green tech) to support the primary sector.  

Action 2:  Protect our productive soils and move toward regenerative practices to increase food security and carbon sequestration.  

  • This could involve implementing the National Policy Statement on highly productive soil, with local government working with community groups to promote best practice. 

Action 3:  Prevent and reduce waste and maximise the value of surplus food. 

  • For example, this could include delivering educational programmes, driving zero-waste events, supporting the redistribution of food through food rescue initiatives, encouraging home and community composting and kerbside collection of food waste. 

Action 4:  Increase supply of, and demand for, local, seasonal and low carbon food. 

  • This may be working with communities, growers and retailers to shift food availability (so that more people have better access to good food), supporting ‘grow-your-own’ enterprises,  shifting consumer awareness and behaviours toward healthy and low carbon food choices, or shifting procurement policies. 

Action 5:  Provide strategic direction and governance for Auckland’s food system. 

  • Here, goals include delivering a food charter for Auckland, establishing a Food Policy Council and advocating for a national food resilience policy. 

Individually and together, these actions support the shift from a linear food model to a circular one, as illustrated below. 

Sustainable local food system model graphic

Source: Sustainable Cities Institute Org

The illustration above shows how each action can support a sustainable local food system. For example, increasing supply of, and demand for, local, seasonal and low carbon food (Action 4) leads to greater access to sustainably-produced food and increased sustainable consumption patterns. 

The key to success is connection and collaboration 

Sustainable systems are complex. Their inputs and levers can include climate change, population growth, urbanisation, depletion of natural resources, and shifts in wealth and consumption patterns.  

Making improvements in one area can affect other areas. For example, boosting food production  without also examining the use of transportation and waste resources could lead to an increase in pollution or waste.  

Therefore, a cross-sectoral approach is required to build these systems, involving both the public and private sectors, with the key to success being connection and collaboration. 

A Te Ao Māori perspective is key 

Te Ora o Tamaki Makaurau Wellbeing Framework, developed by the Mana Whenua Kaitiaki Forum, takes the Te Ao Māori view that everything living and non-living is interconnected. It sets out to treasure and protect our natural environment in a way that is equitable for all.  

Te Ora ō Tāmaki Makaurau is a regionally specific framework, developed with the Mana Whenua Kaitiaki Forum (now Tāmaki Makaurau Mana Whenua Forum), in response to Te Tāruke-ā-Tāwhiri: Auckland’s Climate Plan.

This framework is underpinned by seven key values and principles that can also be categorised as ngā mahi a te ora (wellbeing activities). 

These are:

  • Manaakitanga (the process and responsibility of care)
  • Kaitiakitanga (the responsibility to protect te taiao)
  • Whanaungatanga (reciprocal relationships and community)
  • Rangatiratanga (the right to exercise power and self-determination)
  • Mātauranga (knowledge, wisdom and expertise)
  • Ōritetanga (equity)
  • Tōnuitanga (prosperity)

The Wellbeing Framework led to the development of Te Puāwaitanga ō te Tātai, which underpins every aspect of Auckland’s Climate Plan. The plan notes that a ‘low carbon, resilient and equitable food system embodies values of manaakitanga, kaitakitanga, whanaungatanga, rangatiratanga, mātauranga, ōritetanga and tōnuitanga’.  

Priority action areas include manaakitanga, kaitakitanga and tōnuitanga, the goal being to ‘increase access to healthy, sustainable food and provide communities with the knowledge to become more self-sufficient, improving mental and physical wellbeing and autonomy’.  

Another priority action will be to develop a mātauranga Māori framework, ‘to safeguard taonga knowledge and achieve a balance between western science and indigenous narratives of our changing climate’. 

The Mana Kai Initiative, a kōrero launched by The Aotearoa Circle, brings sector experts together to ‘build a national food network that creates a productive, inclusive, sustainable food system here in Aotearoa New Zealand’. Its priority areas rest on the principles of rangatiratanga, manaakitanga, mātauranga, ngā nuinga, tuakana/teina, atua, hauora, tikanga and ohaoha. Under each of these, it sets out to deliver specific and measurable goals.   

A space for innovation and action 

These challenges are upon us now, and there are immediate opportunities for stakeholders to connect and engage, supporting a collaborative approach to building a sustainable food system.  

Success will be measured by the multi-generational protection of land, soil and water, economically sustainable businesses, valued social and environmental contribution, and increased food security, which will support our net-zero commitments.  

This will rest on a multicultural approach, which interweaves mātauranga and te ao Māori concepts such as manaakitanga and kaitiakitanga of whenua and wai. 

A sustainable food system helps Aotearoa New Zealand meet its goals to reduce emissions by 50 per cent by 2030 and net-zero commitments by 2050, and is also in line with the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals. These include poverty reduction, sustainable production and consumption, improved nutrition and enhanced environmental sustainability by 2030. 

Climate Connect Aotearoa 

In our upcoming demand-led food challenge, Climate Connect Aotearoa (CCA) will support Actions 1 and 2 from the Climate Plan. We’ll collaborate across sectors, value chains and communities to enable the uptake of innovative and scalable growing practices. At the same time we will be developing new economic models that add value to the role growers play in food security and the protection of the environment. 

In support of Action 3 of the Climate Plan, CCA is supporting Rescued Limited as they join this years’ XLabs: Future of Food. Together with a cross-industry team, Rescued will design an upcycled food ecosystem in Aotearoa, to reshape how we source, buy and envision food. 



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