Even the Berlin Wall came down

21 Aug 2020 Even the Berlin Wall came down image

Everyone having to cross the Auckland borders during Alert Level 3 – as well as the Police and Army who are managing the borders – is having a very tough time.

The prize is very high – containing Auckland’s Covid outbreak and bringing it under control. But equally, the cost is very high and is a tense time for all. On the ground, we are trying to make everyone’s job easier and make border crossings as efficient as possible. Like the Berlin Wall that arbitrarily divided Germany, we live in the hope that the Auckland borders will ‘come down’ (be removed).

As with all borders, they create problems with peoples’ lives and work. Just south of the border, many workers need to cross the border daily to do essential work in Auckland. Then there are the businesses that straddle the border, like growers and packhouses in the Pukekohe hub, which feeds Auckland and most of New Zealand their healthy, fresh locally-grown vegetables at this time of year.

It is true that wherever a border is located, there’s a massive impact on people on either side. Those of you old enough (and that doesn’t include me) will remember the massive airlift operations that the allied forces ran to ensure Berlin had enough food when the Soviets locked off the city by land access. The Auckland border has not got to that level yet.

The Government is granting border passes so that the essential businesses that previously operated under Levels 3 and 4 can continue to operate. That includes those businesses that feed Auckland and the nation. In various forms, these businesses have border passes, however, three issues remain.

The first is, as with all border passes, they are limited in their application. The issue with modern supply chains is that they are long and complicated. To run a growing operation or a factory, workers are needed as well as experts for timely advice and technicians for when things break down, as they do. For example, when equipment breaks down, the workers can’t work and produce the food we need. When a tractor doesn’t start during the harvest of time sensitive food like lettuce or cauliflower, harvest stops until that tractor can be fixed.

The same is true of factories. Those that make food packaging also need to be able to operate, because without packaging, it is not possible to move the food to consumers. Remember during the first lockdown when flour was sold in plastic bags due to a major packing machine failure? In other words, we need the whole supply chain to function, not just the workers who are doing the work. Border passes must permit technicians and experts to travel.

The next issue with borders is congestion. This is often unavoidable, but the placement of the border can resolve these issues. If, for example, the southern Auckland border was located either north or south of where it is at the moment, then many of the food production problems could have been avoided. Congestion can also be solved by having freight and produce lanes as is being done on the Auckland border where possible. So where possible, border placement and management can resolve a number of issues.

The final issue is getting food to people. In Level 3, independent fruit and vegetable retailers are closed along with farmers’ markets. This takes away about 60% of the supply to people living in Auckland because the supermarkets only provide around 40% of fruit and vegetables. While the supermarkets are doing their best to increase supply, they cannot make up all the decrease, and for some people, supermarkets are not readily accessible. There is also the risk of Covid transmission as more people congregate at the supermarket doors.

We are all doing our best to stamp Covid out and keep New Zealand in food, now and in the future. For example, if we want vegetables for Christmas, they need to be planted now. Border placement and management are critical ingredients to ensuring food supply. Border placement needs to take into account movement in the whole supply chain. We do not want to have to do the equivalent of Berlin’s airlift to feed Auckland.

The horticulture industry will keep working with the Government to ensure that does not happen, and New Zealanders continue to have access to fresh, health locally-grown vegetables and fruit.

Mike Chapman, Chief Executive