Developing a strategy to ensure food sovereignty in the Eastern Bay will become a key focus for Te Puna Ora o Mataatua over the next three years.
Te Puna Ora o Mataatua Chief executive Dr Chris Tooley says food sovereignty has always been an important issue but it became especially relevant because of the disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
When the New Zealand economy came to a halt because of the impacts of COVID-19, the financial pressure on some people across country was immense. And like everywhere else, people in the Eastern Bay were losing their jobs or a part of their income, and sometimes keeping food on the table was a struggle for many.
To assist those in need, Te Puna Ora o Mataatua with two other providers, Whakaatu Whanaunga and Te Ao Hau Trust received funding from the Ministry of Social Development to provide kai packs to those in the Eastern Bay who were struggling as a result of the pandemic.
Te Puna Ora o Mataatua received $235,000 from a total national funding pool of $32 million in the first allocation, for Community Food Response.
Dr Tooley says while the organisation received the lion’s share of the funding in the Eastern Bay, it was committed to working collaboratively with the other providers because it was the best way to achieve results.
“We understand that if we are going to make in-roads in this area then we need to be united in our fight against poverty and so the three providers are all working together to give out packs and combat the issues that lead to these situations in the first place.”
The service proved to be essential and the three providers were offered further funding to continue the service for the next two years. Te Puna Ora o Mataatua received a further $200,000 in this second tranche of funding.
Since receiving that first lot of funding, during Lockdown, Te Puna Ora o Mataatua has distributed more than 1000 kai packs with some weeks up to 400 households needing to use the service.
The packs are a one-off service to support whānau if they can’t provide food for themselves that week. Those seeking this type of support can either call Te Puna Ora o Mataatua on 0800 628 228 or visit the reception at the organisation’s office on King Street in Whakatāne.
Referrals are followed up with a phone call from a Kai Coordinator and then the need is assessed. Assessment takes in to consideration several elements including household crowding, redundancy due to COVID-19, number of dependents, unexpected bills and health or mental health issues.
The assessment allows staff to identify other areas of support and if anyone requires long term assistance then they are referred to Whānau Ora services provided by Te Puna Ora o Mataatua. Kai coordinator Angel Haeata-Burrows said kai is often the doorway to other services. "Frequently people will come in for kai, and then through discussion we identify that there are deeper issues that we can support them with, for better outcomes in the long term."
Dr Tooley says the reasons why people are struggling financially are often complex and involve more than one issue.
He says in addition to the kai packs, Te Puna Ora o Mataatua can provide further support through the Whānau Ora team and they wrap around to ensure whānau have the help they need to make long-term changes so they can thrive.
“It’s going to stop people from reaching tipping points when it comes to poverty and helps people address all those things that trigger health issues including drugs and alcohol as well mental health factors. It also helps to identify any other needs including housing.
“We know that once you take away a warm house and kai in the belly, all these things are triggers that escalate if the problems are left. This approach has stopped people getting into critical status areas relating to homelessness, drugs, alcohol and depression.”
But Dr Tooley says while this support is crucial, it also requires an overarching strategy to ensure that these types of services are being used in the most effective way.
Te Puna Ora o Mataatua has received a third lot of funding to help with this work, which was announced in October. This phase of funding is known as the Food Secure Communities Grant and the Bay of Plenty received $177,390 with Te Puna Ora o Mataatua as the Eastern Bay lead provider.
The funding is for communities to work together to develop and implement a plan to create long-term, sustainable food security.
Dr Tooley says for Te Puna o Ora o Mataatua, this means identifying all those organisations providing kai to the community and coming up with a plan to ensure that this is done in the most efficient and effective way.
“For example, Whakatāne is well serviced when it comes to kai but there are gaps, particularly when you think about some of the other outlying areas such as Edgecumbe or Matata, or places like Murupara or Ruatoki. The Eastern Bay is a largely rural region and there are still households missing out, there are still marae that are missing out. This work will help to address some of that imbalance. We’ve got to identify the gaps so we know where the holes are and where the opportunities may be.”
Dr Tooley says the contract is a two-year project and the first six months will be used to create a comprehensive stocktake of all organisations in this space.
“We need to take a stock take of everybody that is delivering kai in the Eastern Bay. Providers including organisations like ours as well as institutions like church groups and community entities as well as the kai going into schools through the Ministry of Education funding that provides free lunches in some of our schools.
“Therefore, we have to identify where the overlaps are and where the gaps are. From there we can create a plan to figure out how everyone can work together better and get better results out of the resources that are being applied to support our whānau.”
Dr Tooley says at the end of the two-year contract period, Te Puna Ora o Mataatua will have a clear plan on what to do next and this approach will enable better food sovereignty in the Eastern Bay.
“We should have a business plan by then and then we can start looking at the local leadership and how we enable long-term kai sovereignty.”
The first Forum on Food Sovereignty in 2007 was monumental in defining the movement and tenets. It defined food sovereignty as people’s right to healthy and culturally appropriate food produced through ecologically sound and sustainable methods, and their rights to define their own food and agriculture systems.
Additionally, six pillars of food sovereignty were also identified. These consist of:
Dr Tooley says better, and more long-term, results will be achieved by putting food sovereignty at the centre of the conversation.
“We have to get away from short term solutions like kai banks and find long-term and sustainable solutions. This comes down to developing our own maara kai (food growing gardens) and using our local resources in a better way.
“Historically, we have always been really good at growing food in the Eastern Bay. And we have a few maara kai but we need to have conversations about identifying land that can be used to support the growing of kai, using those resources to first support our own people and only then should we look at the opportunities to sell food outside of our area to generating commercial returns. This will help us achieve kai sovereignty and provide a way for our Eastern Bay whānau to not only survive but to thrive.
“We are looking forward to working with people, organisations and other groups across the Mataatua rohe in this area so that we can achieve long-term and sustainable results for our whānau.”