Rural Trajectories: Diversification and Farm-Community Linkages in Whakatane District, 1999–2003
In New Zealand and elsewhere the interdependence of development in farming and the broader rural community can no longer be taken for granted. Five years ago we conducted a comparative analysis of the interrelated dynamics of change in agriculture and rural communities in the Central North Island. The observed trends from this research suggested that: (i) long and short cycles of change affecting the rural sector are promoting greater diversity in agriculture-community relations; (ii) adjustment processes are ongoing; and (iii) current evidence does not point unambiguously to either the de-coupling or re-linking of agriculture and the broader rural community. This paper explores further the ambiguity encountered in the earlier research through a follow-up case study grounded in Whakatane District. The key finding is that as a result of individual effort and the will to diversify, the rural economy of Whakatane District is buoyant and farming remains the major economic activity. However, despite the apparent persistence of strong and pervasive agriculture-community linkages, the district remains vulnerable to forces embedded in short and long cycles of change. In terms of short-cycle change, the pressure on dairy farming from price fluctuation and the increasing attractiveness of conversion to horticulture is affecting the agricultural side of the equation, while the proliferation of lifestyle blocks is notable on the community side. In terms of long-cycle change, the influence of a renaissance of Maori rural living is beginning to be felt on the community side, while the effect of climate change and associated weather extremes is beginning to impact on agriculture.
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