The obvious source of the organic matter needed to repair and maintain agricultural land is the massive amounts of organic matter which waste management authorities are busy trying to find a dumping place for says an Australian waste management expert.
Australian soils are in a dire situation with less than one per cent organic matter left, and New Zealand soils probably contain only a percent or two more, says Australian waste expert, Gerard Gillespie.
He describes conventional farming as an extractive industry, with the soil losing its substance to plants and animals then to people, and finally to the sewers.
Unless it starts going back in some kind of improved form agriculture will collapse. Two sustained El Nino effects would kill Australian agriculture says Gillespie.
Soils in the Australian district of Young and adjoining areas have a pH of four. There was not a farmer in the world who wanted to hand on 500 acres of useless soil to their children, but the pressures of meeting mortgage payments and feeding families meant they applied short term measures to meet seasonal deadlines - resulting in more substance being sucked from the soil to end up in the sewage system.
Gillespie’s message is that countries like New Zealand and Australia can have pollution, desertification, contamination and waste or employment, good food and health. "The cost will be the same, the benefits immeasurable"
The obvious source of the organic matter needed to repair and maintain agricultural land is the massive amounts of organic matter which waste management authorities are busy trying to find a dumping place for, he says.
He gives the example of figures applicable to Canberra’s curbside collection operation. Standard garbage collection costs $3.5 million to operate and employs17 people. The alternative, involving recycling, costs $2.4 million to operate and would employ 47 people.
The real cost of disposing of waste in Sydney under conventional methods, when the social costs were factored in, was estimated to be about $200/tonne. However, with change in direction, the waste could be processed into organic matter and transported to a country area like Broken Hill for $125/tonne, Gillespie says.
Recycling proponents have been trying to drive recycling by guilt, but it makes no sense to drive social issues via guilt, and in reality only a small number of people are interested in the subject, he says.
Waste only exists between our ears - it’s a concept, he told the conference. It was also possible for progressive thinkers on waste to have what they wanted and not have to pay any more for it.
"We just have to spend what we’re spending in a much cleverer way."
He gave the example of a new Albury sewage treatment plant which cost $30 million but which was designed in such a way that it became a haven for 140 species of birds, and as a result, an attraction for ornithologists. The tourism that had grown up around the ornithologists meant a positive return on the investment was expected in 10 years, after which the town would be making pure profit.
New Zealanders seem, in some ways, to miss some of this country’s wonderful advantages and don’t know the jewel they are standing on, says Gillespie.
"You have the potential to become the organic foodbowl of the world if you make some minor little shifts."
New Zealand had the opportunity to develop markets the rest of the world could only dream of.
"The rest of the world needs your leadership. The rest of the world needs you to pull it out of the s***t!
That New Zealand could be a world leader was an idea it needed to pick up and run with, not because this country needs it but because the rest of the world needs it.
"You are the people we have been waiting for."