Fluid Thinking

Guest editorial by Brendan Hoare

Thoughts are things. What we think is what we tend to say, and what we tend to say is often what we end up doing. Our thinking shapes and is shaped by our cultural intelligence, our language reflects our cultural attitudes, and our actions are supported by our cultural practices.

Look out your window; what you see is a cultural landscape. It may be one that society has shaped or one you have crafted yourself. Both are shaped by a way of thinking, planning and choice of technology. At a national scale our landscape is a manifestation of our collective cultural thinking, intelligence and practice.

Change in behaviour requires a change in thinking. Tweaking our thinking will only result in minor changes in practice. We seldom take time to consider this and are therefore not conscious of what influences our thinking, or the repercussions of our actions.

It is quite clear however that the dominant narrative and resulting action is based on a ‘rights consciousness’ and a ‘me not we’ way of seeing the world. The dominant cultural attitude is that it is my right to farm, have access to clean water, do what has to be done to get my desired outcome. In the recent national discussions on water, I have yet to see or hear any meaningful mention of ‘duty’ that for example returns water once used cleaner than it was taken, as if ‘we’ are true custodians of it. The ‘we’ is more often than not someone else’s responsibility.

Like air, water surrounds us but we are not conscious of it – we expect it to be there for us – as a right. My observation is that the national discourse about water is often fragmented, adopts a blame culture (someone else’s fault) and fails to provide any real examples of a way out or best practice or meaningful change.

The vast majority of us have a daily unconscious disdain for water. We literally defecate in one of the most essential elements of life. Our collective culture takes living water (wai ora) and purposefully creates dirty water (wai mate). This is not a rural–urban divide thing, this is collective cultural attitude and practice.

While the organic worldview seeks to manage productive ecosystems according to a ‘total concept’ (interconnectedness of all things), and to the agreed principles of health, ecology, fairness and care, we explicitly focus on soil. This is because most organic agriculture models believe healthy soil is the basis of healthy food and people. The truth is that without healthy living water there cannot be healthy soil.

It is the core philosophical principle and practice of the ‘total concept’ that prohibits the use of damaging fertilisers and pesticides, and poor resource management practices. These are embedded in our rules of practice, while the proven practices of increased biodiversity and soil organic matter are encouraged. It is not a whim, but conscious thought, intelligence and appropriate practices that make an organic systems approach visibly and measurably different.

Our approaches have been ridiculed for decades, and only recently have we been considered mainstream. A great challenge facing our community is to articulate the benefits of our ‘total concept’ approach in a way that gets the attention of other mainstream decision makers and innovative practitioners. Models that demonstrate how we store and manage water in the landscape (e.g. through increased organic matter content and biodiversity management) and not on it (dams and excessive irrigation programmes) are essential.

The world wants what the organic community holds and is demonstrating. A challenge for us all is to meet the opportunity to scale-up not only with more certified organic products and brands but also with a significant change in the cultural landscape, which can be measured by healthy water, soil, food and people.

Brendan Hoare is the managing director of Buy Pure New Zealand, and the chief executive of Organics Aotearoa New Zealand (OANZ).