Had the money dried up for drought forecasting after runanga were given millions for conservation work?

Two announcements from the office of Kiripatu Allan give us a good idea of the government’s spending priorities.

Our understanding of those priorities is enhanced when we compare Allan’s announcements with the government’s investment in a project aimed to developing a new drought  forecasting tool.

“Improved forecasting will alleviate some of the financial and mental burden that drought puts on farmers and growers. It will also make our primary industries more resilient, productive and sustainable,” Agriculture Minister Damien O’Connor said of this development.

As Minister for Emergency Management, Kiri Allan says the government will contribute towards a Mayoral Relief Fund to support those most affected by the fires in Waiharara in the Far North.

A few days later, as Minister for Conservation, she announced a boost in funding for six Jobs for Nature initiatives across Canterbury.  These range from establishing coastline trapping in Kaikōura, to setting up a native plant nursery, restoration planting at Lyttelton harbour, and increasing pest control across Banks Peninsula and Christchurch.

The contribution to the wellbeing of the people affected by the Far North fire amounted to $200,000.

The investment in improved drought forecasting is $200,000.

The investments in conservation projects amount to “over $12.64 million”.

Fair to say, no homes had been destroyed in the fire, but Allan said she was aware there were still significant impacts on people that would need to be addressed.

“While we are focusing on the most vulnerable at this stage, those who have suffered loss or damage should know the Government will support them where it can and help this close-knit community get back to some normality as soon as possible.

“We will stay in contact with Mayor Carter to see what further assistance may be needed in the coming days.”

Mayoral Relief Funds provide an additional way to help communities bounce back after an emergency.

The funds are in addition to other support that people may be eligible for through the Ministry of Social Development and Ministry for Primary Industries.

But $200,000 looks miserly when millions are being poured into conservation projects.

This funding

“… will enable workers to gain valuable hands-on experience and provide a stepping stone into longer-term careers in conservation,” Kiri Allan said.

“As well as contributing to the region’s economy post COVID, this work is vitally important in our efforts to reverse damage to our unique environment and meet the goals laid out in the Aotearoa New Zealand Biodiversity Strategy.”

The summary of projects being funded suggests those which are led by runanga have a good chance of finding favour in the Beehive.

The summary also shows the government is ignoring the concerns of prominent overseas scientists and is pressing relentlessly on with its programme for merging science with matauranga Maori.

 Oh – and one of the runanga-led projects is being funded to the tune of $225,000 per job created.

How much did we say is going to the Mayoral Relief Fund in the Far North and into drought forecasting?

The projects are –

  • Whakaraupō – He Rau Ringa e Oti ai (the Helping Hands programme) – led by Te Hapū o Ngāti Wheke, this has received $4.5 million to employ 20 people over the next three years to restore their ancestral harbour Whakaraupō/Lyttelton.

“Everyone involved will benefit from the knowledge exchange. The programme partners will pass on their ecological expertise to mana whenua and the field teams while the field teams and programme partners will learn about mātauranga Māori from mana whenua,” Kiri Allan said.

  • Te Rākau Kōhanga – the $2.7 million Te Rākau Kōhanga project will create a plant nursery at Arowhenua Marae near Temuka that will employ 15 people and provide training and qualifications in growing natives.

The nursery will grow about 180,000 eco-sourced native plants over three years.

Some of the plants will be used by the $16 million Jobs For Nature projects working to restore the nearby Rangitata River, a braided river which has significant cultural and conservation values.

  • Te Tau Wairehu o Marokura – The Te Tau Wairehu o Marokura Predator Control Project will employ up to 13 people for three years in an area affected by the international tourism downturn due to COVID-19. It will support whānau to remain in Kaikōura “and stay connected to their tūrangawaewae”.

Te Rūnanga o Kaikōura will receive $2.1 million to establish and maintain a trapline to protect native birds from predators along 127 kilometres of coastline between the Awatere River in Marlborough and Oaro River in North Canterbury.

The trapline will protect threatened native species including black-fronted terns, wrybills, Caspian terns, South Island pied oystercatchers, banded dotterel and other native wildlife. More intensive trapping networks will be established around native wildlife hotspots.

Te Rūnanga o Kaikōura/Ngāti Kuri is working in partnership on this project with the Kaikōura, Marlborough and Hurunui district councils, Environment Canterbury and the Department of Conservation as the Ngāti Kurī Takiwā Collective.

  • Te Makuru – This is a training scheme for whānau from five local rūnanga to raise native plants. It will employ six people for 18 months at DOC’s nursery in Motukarara, near Te Waihora/Lake Ellesmere.

Taumutu Rūnanaga will receive $710,000 on behalf of five rūnanga (Wairewa Rūnanga, Onuku Rūnanga, Te Taumutu Rūnanga, Te Hapu o Ngāti Wheke, and Te Rūnanga o Koukourata).

The project aims to give workers hands-on experience that can be shared with whanau and encourage them to run community native plant nurseries for their hāpu.

  • Te Ara Kākāriki Kaimahi Greenway Project – Te Ara Kākāriki Greenway Canterbury Trust will receive $953,000 to plant a green corridor across Selwyn. This includes the restoration of two large legacy sites in the Te Waihora catchment that will also benefit from predator and weed control.

The project is expected to employ four people for three years and will lead to more than 50,000 eco-sourced native trees being planted. Seedlings will include beech, totara and matai trees that will one day become pockets of low-lying forest

  • Ōtautahi and Te Pātaka o Rākaihautū Pest Control – Christchurch City Council will receive $1.575 million for animal pest and weed control work in parks, “mahinga kai” sites and wetlands across Otautahi/Christchurch, Te Pataka o Rakaihautu/Banks Peninsula and the Port Hills.

The project will employ 10 people for three years. The Council intends to bring unemployed people into the workforce and offer placements for those interested in getting experience and skills in pest control. Training will be provided to set them up for a career in conservation.

Here at Point of Order – like the great majority of New Zealanders, we suspect – we would have welcomed an English translation of expressions such as mahinga kai.

We found this explanation on a co-governance website set up under Te Waihora Co-Governance Agreement between Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu and Environment Canterbury.

Mahinga kai was, and still is, the currency of the Ngāi Tahu people. It’s all about manaaki – about looking after people; so the quality and quantity of food whānau (family) can produce is a reflection of mana (standing).

The ability of Te Waihora/Lake Ellesmere to sustain people as a mahinga kai (gathering place), is upheld in the whakataukī (tribal proverb) from Taumutu: Ko ngā hau ki ētahi wāhi, ko ngā kai ki Orariki – No matter which way the wind blows, you will always eat at the pā of Orariki, Taumutu.

We remain uncertain about what the words mean.

But let’s move on to the government’s investment in the development of a new forecasting tool that makes full use of innovative climate modelling to help farmers and growers prepare for dry conditions.

The National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA) now provides seasonal climate outlooks each month that look three months ahead, but are not drought specific.

The new project will provide daily drought forecasts out to 35 days.

Later, it will explore drought predictions up to six months ahead.

Wow.  This has got to be a big-deal project with the potential to generate huge benefits.

But more money is being poured into each job in the conservation project led by Te Hapū o Ngāti Wheke than is being poured into this drought forecasting project.  

Agriculture Minister Damien O’Connor said the new approach will cost $200,000 and is being jointly funded through the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) and NIWA.

“We are harnessing the latest in climate and data science to put information into the hands of the people who can make the best use of it,” Damien O’Connor said.

“Knowing well in advance when dry conditions are heading your way means you can cut your cloth accordingly at critical times on-farm. Having early warning can help determine stocking levels, water storage and feed management options.”

State-of-the-art data-driven techniques are being used by NIWA scientists to make these predictions more precise and more accurate for New Zealand, building on a weather model released in 2020 by the United States of America’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

O’Connor said:

“Droughts are a part of farming, but when they extend for many months or affect large swathes of the country, they can have a major impact on rural communities.”

The new forecast tool will be a companion to the New Zealand Drought Index. The index was developed by NIWA in conjunction with MPI and launched in 2017. It is used to determine the current status of drought across the country and measures the duration and intensity of recent dryness.

“A large-scale drought adverse event classification that was in place for large parts of New Zealand beginning in March 2020 was lifted on 30 November 2021.

“During that time the Government responded with about $20 million of funding to help rural communities, including support for recovery advice. Other assistance was also provided through feed co-ordination services.

“With climate change, severe weather events are both more frequent and intense. So, it’s important we help farmers and growers get their businesses ready for future climate conditions.”

Yep.  That helps justify a $200,000 investment.

Development of the forecasting tool will benefit from the input of a wide range of end users. As well as farmers and growers, representatives from local and central government, advisors and industry bodies will be consulted. The tool is expected to be available by the end of 2023.

As for the $200,000 designed for the fire-hit Waiharara community, Kiri Allan said she has spoken to Far North Mayor John Carter about the effect the fires continue to have, on residents and the wider community, and to offer the Government’s support.

“My thoughts go out to all those who have had their Christmas-New Year break turned upside down and I want to assure them that the Government is committed to doing what it can to help get the community back on its feet,” Kiri Allan said

“It is still too early to understand the full impact of this blaze, but we want to ensure there is minimal delay in supporting those worst affected.”

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