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Towards a national strategy for soil

Why a soil strategy? After all, we have spent a few decades now in the absence of a strategic direction. As often plays out, urgency of fundamental information occurs during times of policy or management decisions being made. However, once the decision is made, the pressure goes off and the perceived need dies with that. This limits our ability to ensure we have sound underpinning information to protect and enable Aotearoa New Zealand to thrive in a changing world.

Soil is central to our success as a nation. This has been a constant through the history of Aotearoa New Zealand. Māori have had a long connection and understanding of soil reaching back centuries to Polynesian migration. Soil is recognised as a taonga (treasured resource), especially at the iwi/hapū, whānau and community level, providing cultural, spiritual, social, emotional, and economic sustenance to Māori with demonstrated links to land security, food production, healthy foods, and human well-being.

Across Aotearoa the soil underpins our economy, our biodiversity, environmental health, and well-being of our communities. Much of our regional identity reflects how soil has shaped our use of the land – think of the rolling grasslands of Waikato or Southland, the wine land in Marlborough, or the fruit lands of the Bay of Plenty. Soil sits at the nexus of many of the national challenges we face. Whether it’s food and water security, biodiversity, healthy waterways, secure infrastructure, or adapting to climate change, the success of our response to these challenges will be strongly influenced by the management of our unique national soil resource. 

The importance of soil to a nation’s success is not unique to Aotearoa New Zealand. Soil security has become a global challenge. As part of the UN Sustainable Development Goals, Climate Change agreements, or freshwater and food security, the sustainable management of soil as a taonga is vital to global health. Recognising this, the UN has established the Global Soil Partnership, with the mission to ‘position soils on the global agenda through collective action, by promoting sustainable soil management and improve soil governance to guarantee healthy and productive soils to support essential ecosystem services’. At the bloc and national level, the importance of soil security is being explicitly recognised. The European Union is currently consulting on an updated EU soil strategy, and the Australian Government has just released a national soil strategy as part of the national budget 2021.

In 2015, MPI commissioned a comprehensive multi-agency review of future requirements for soil management in Aotearoa New Zealand. One of the main outcomes identified was the need for a national soil strategy. Since then, the importance of soil to the nation’s well-being has been increasingly recognised, while the pressure on this taonga has continued to increase. We propose it is timely to develop our national soil strategy; this will give us a pathway to provide for a healthy and thriving Aotearoa New Zealand. While we can learn a lot from other nations, we would also make a strong global contribution through embedding our soil strategy in the perspective of sustaining national well-being. To achieve this, it is logical that development of the national soil strategy follows a te Tiriti approach, recognising soil as a national taonga.

Kia tupu matomato a Tāne, a Rongo, a Haumia-Tiketike – Let it be that the land and all its fruits may flourish.