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10 Questions with Bill Kaye-Blake, Margaret Brown and Penny Payne

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Q1: What prompted you to write this book?

BK-B: I’m passionate about agriculture and rural communities. I think we can learn a lot from how people live in rural areas, no matter where we live.

MB: We realised that all the research we had carried out would not reach many of the people that are making decisions about rural resilience — community groups, individuals, local policy-makers, etcetera — so we thought a ‘popular’ book would bring our findings and insights to those people who are dealing daily with rural resilience issues.

PP: We wanted to document the work completed under the AgResearch programme ‘Resilient Rural Communities’ (previously ‘Rural Futures’) over the past ten years.

 

Q2: What key points do you want readers to take from it?

BK-B: There’s a lot more to rural communities than you see driving through them or looking at statistics. Social connections are a big part of people’s lives, and they are hard to see from the outside.

MB: Rural resilience is a complex concept and people think of it in many different ways and at different levels and scales.

PP: That resilience is complex — we may not capture an accurate picture of the resilience of a place using statistics such as population numbers or median income. We also need to consider how residents experience the resilience of their town. Social aspects of the community such as volunteering, providing a koha, and being a tight-knit community appear to be key contributors to community resilience.

 

Q3: Did you learn anything surprising during the writing process?

BK-B: How hard it was to put together the whole picture! It is hard to provide a simple description of rural New Zealand.

MB: How difficult it can be for scientists to take their academic papers and reports and rewrite them into a more popular style.

 

Q4: What was the greatest challenge in putting the book together?

BK-B: The biggest challenge was the number of writers and the breadth of their work. We had so much material from 10 years of research, and it was a challenge to condense it into an accessible book.

MB: Keeping 14 authors on task and to deadlines. It was my job to crack the whip!

PP: Reaching a consensus among the authors about what the future of New Zealand’s rural communities might look like; where they might be in 20 years, and what rural communities might do to influence their resilience trajectory.

 

Q5: What do you feel is the biggest threat to rural resilience?

BK-B: I feel the biggest threat is a combination of climate change and the policies around it. If climate change becomes severe, it will have a big impact on rural areas. The policy response could then make things either worse or better.

MB: The disconnect between urban and rural. With approximately only 20 per cent of New Zealand’s population living in the country, decisions are being made about them and for them by predominately urban people, many of whom have little understanding or empathy for their rural neighbours.

PP: Continued centralisation of governance and resources to New Zealand’s major cities away from rural communities. This can create a skeleton staff feel in the regions, which can begin or exacerbate a cycle of decline.

 

Q6: Who will get the most from reading this book?

BK-B: I’m hoping that people who work with the rural sector but don’t live there will get some greater understanding — policy-makers, planners, researchers, businesses. I’m also hoping that people who live in rural communities can see themselves in the book and that it can provide support for their projects.

MB: All people who are involved with making decisions about increasing well-being and resilience in rural communities — landowners, agribusiness and service providers, local and national policy makers.

PP: Those who might be involved in decision-making which affects rural communities, but are divorced from the communities themselves. The book helps to bring into perspective the effect of policies and events, which occur both near to and far from our rural towns, on the communities.

 

Q7: What are the overlooked opportunities to increase rural resilience?

BK-B: One opportunity is learning from each other. We found great examples of resilience and some of the things that communities did to build it. Those lessons could be shared more widely and other communities could learn from them. Another opportunity is changing the way government services are delivered in rural areas.

MB: One overlooked opportunity is the interest and capability of many rural people who would like to be engaged and valued in making decisions about rural resilience that directly affect them.

PP: One opportunity is to work on harnessing increased social connectedness within rural communities. This came up repeatedly in our research — that the relationships, connectedness and support networks were what made each town.

 

Q8: What policy changes would you like to see as a result of the book?

BK-B: I am hoping that the Rural Proofing policy, which assesses all policies for their specific effects on rural areas, will be successful. I am also hoping that the new focus on well-being will take into account the non-financial impacts of decisions to close schools and healthcare facilities, which can seriously affect the quality of life for rural residents.

MB: I am most interested in seeing people who want to increase rural well-being and resilience having discussions about what this will look like and how to do it using evidence that has been produced in collaboration with rural people.

 

Q9: What are you working on at the moment?

BK-B: I’m working on a few projects on how to get greater returns for New Zealand agriculture by targeting high-value consumers and creating integrated supply chains. The hope is that we can use new, digital technologies to tell the story of New Zealand’s producers and the good work they do.

MB: Rural Proofing and integrated impact assessment. How can policy decision-makers evaluate their decisions to assess what impact they might have on rural communities.

PP: I am working on an international case study looking at resilience in four rural towns in Vermont. That is, how communities’ experience of resilience compares with official statistics that might be used as measures of resilience, such as population change or median income. This is an extension of the work completed for Chapter 3 of the book, which looked at resilience in four New Zealand towns.

 

Q10: Which is your favourite New Zealand country town?

BK-B: There are many places I haven’t been , so it’s hard to say. I have spent some time in Central Otago and I like it a lot.

MB: Feilding. In my other life, I — along with my husband and son — am a sheep, beef and arable farmer in the Manawatū and Feilding is our closest town.

PP: Woodville. My Dad lives there, and it has great op shops.