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Building resilience is key to ensuring our rural communities can overcome climate shocks

Ray Smith is Director-General of the Ministry for Primary Industries.

The full extent of the damage from Cyclone Gabrielle is still being determined. For many in the worst affected regions there is a long road ahead to recovery.

We acknowledge that this is a difficult time for those communities and our primary sector partners. They will need our ongoing engagement and support now more than ever.

Natural disasters have a devastating impact on local economies, especially in rural areas where agriculture and other primary sector industries are the main source of income.

I have been in Hawke’s Bay and Te Tairawhiti and have seen the magnitude of the damage. I have witnessed the mahi by community and sector groups involved in clean-up efforts.

The stories from those on the ground about how their communities are responding are incredible.

It is complex situation. Recovery will require all voices to be heard and a collaborative effort among all stakeholders, including government, sector, and local groups.

The primary sector showed through their response to the Covid pandemic just how crucial a collaborative mindset can be for helping Aotearoa New Zealand to overcome challenges.

Fit for a Better World’s approach to be vision-led, business and community-driven, and government enabled has provided us with a framework to help guide recovery efforts.

The work of sector groups including DairyNZ, Beef+Lamb New Zealand, Horticulture New Zealand, Federated Farmers, whenua Māori entities and Rural Support Trusts has been crucial for identifying areas of greatest need and providing support.

Across the affected regions MPI staff – including farm advisers from the On Farm Support team – have visited cut-off areas, helped with animal welfare needs, met with affected growers, farmers, and Māori agribusinesses to discuss support available, and engaged with sector groups about what lies ahead.

Immediate assistance has been at hand to help farmers and growers with business continuity through the government’s emergency grant package, which has made $74 million available for urgent repair work and the clearing of silt to save trees and vines.

The government also provided $4 million through the Cyclone Gabrielle Mobilisation Fund to help with urgent needs, including projects covering aerial surveys, logistics and transport, mental wellbeing, and recovery advice.

Wellbeing assistance is being offered by organisations such as Farmstrong, the Rural Support Trusts and the Rural Employee Support Hub.

The National Feed Coordination Service and Federated Farmers’ Farmy Army have brought relief by offering grazing, supplementary feed and volunteer labour to those farmers who need it.

Sadly, we know that this will not be the last severe weather event we will face – but from these experiences we can incorporate lessons into national resilience strategies.

In time our attention will turn towards building up climate resilience and disaster preparedness for future challenges.

The remarkable local response to Cyclone Gabrielle across homes, marae, church halls and schools has highlighted the importance of investing in the resilience of our rural communities.

Investing into building the capacity of our rural communities to withstand future shocks and stresses will pay dividends.

Tools are already available and include the ‘Know Your Mindset. Do What Matters’ and ‘Our Resilient Farming Business’ programmes from the Agri-Women’s Development Trust and MPI’s Rural Community Hubs.

These focus on enabling attendees to manage multiple pressures, prioritise the wellbeing of themselves, families, farms, and communities, and build realistic action plans for any events.  

Progress is never linear. Challenges and pitfalls will emerge when we least expect them. But through determination and collaboration, we can support our rural communities to emerge stronger and more resilient.