Banana-growing project among the winners of Māori science funding

Research, Science and Innovation Minister Megan Woods and Māori Development Minister Nanaia Mahuta have announced funding for 34 new projects worth $3.8 million over two years through the sixth round of Te Pūnaha Hihiko: Vision Mātauranga Capability Fund.

Te Pūnaha Hihiko: Vision Mātauranga Capability Fund invests in people and organisations undertaking or planning research which supports the four themes of the Vision Mātauranga Policy: indigenous innovation; taiao achieving environmental sustainability; hauora/oranga improving health and social wellbeing; and mātauranga exploring indigenous knowledge.

“This fund has a strong focus on investing in Māori people and organisations that can create unique opportunities and innovative solutions through science research,” says Minister Woods.

“The projects funded through the Vision Mātauranga Capability Fund reflect the high calibre of diverse research aimed at creating a healthier, more sustainable and better future for all of New Zealand.”

Nanaia Mahuta says the new projects in this year’s round include sustainability in the Chatham Islands, improving biodiversity and kaitiakitanga (guardianship) in South Westland, and developing a climate change strategy for Te Arawa.

“The contribution Māori make to our research, science and innovation sectors is distinctive and essential to the growth of New Zealand,” says Minister Mahuta.

“Māori have valuable knowledge to help solve our country’s unique problems. Investment into Māori knowledge and resources, and building a better understanding of Māori values creates resilient communities.”

Up to $4 million per investment round is available through two different schemes in the fund.

A full list of successful projects is available on the MBIE website.

At the top of the list, AgResearch is being funded for three separate projects.

One of these (with $93,455 of funding) is to nurture the growth of a banana industry through “the rapid expansion of commercial Banana growing in Tārawhiti” in partnership with a company, Tai Pukenga Limited.

The Institute of Environmental Science and Research has secured $100,000 for the validation of a food safety framework for mahinga kai Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu.

The Rakiura Titi Islands Administering Body / Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu, in partnership with Callaghan Innovation, has secured $100,000 for a project to find ways of utilising tītī by-products and add value to mahinga kai.

Source: Ministers of Science and Māori Development

Compost can be a hidden source of plastic pollution

The extensive use of all kinds of plastic in food production is a ticking time bomb because of the risks it poses to the environment and human health, says ESR Environmental Scientist Olga Pantos.

Dr Pantos says there is a growing public awareness of the risks posed by plastic in the marine environment but there is not the same level of knowledge about the risks plastics pose in the soil.

One potentially hidden source of plastic moving into the environment is via compost.

Dr Pantos says that even consumers who want to do the right thing with their plastic waste get confused about what they can recycle and what should go to waste.

Labelling is often hard to read and often harder to understand. She says increased use of biopolymers and plastic alternatives in food packaging makes it likely that the amount of plastic in green waste is increasing.

While some consumers might think they are making good decisions by choosing compostable and biodegradable labelled products, they can be just as harmful to the environment as conventional plastic if they are not disposed of properly.

Putting these products into compost may mean they are simply degrading to smaller pieces of plastic and making their way into the food chain.

A recent study in Germany found compost from supermarket waste had close to 900 pieces of microplastic in a one-kilogram sample.

Once the plastic gets into the compost it can have an impact on the biological function of the soil. Dr Pantos says the nature of plastics makes them effective in absorbing chemical contaminants, making them more toxic.

She says consumers are starting to become aware of the hidden plastic content in apparently harmless items like tea bags but she says there is still a lot to learn about how to make good choices as a consumer.

She says that per capita New Zealanders generate some of the highest amounts of plastic waste in the world.

Globally over 311 million tonnes of plastic was produced and most of that is single-use.

Olga Pantos, a senior scientist at Christchurch-based ESR Food, water and Biowaste group was involved in the recent survey of marine microplastics in Wellington.

Source: Institute of Environmental Science And Research

Climate change and health report launched

A new report shows how climate change will impact on New Zealander’s health over the next 50-100 years and makes the case for better preparation.

You can read the Climate Change and Environmental Health report HERE. 

How a changing climate impacts on people’s health will also change, says Associate Health Minister Julie Anne Genter.

The health system must be better prepared to deal with increased temperatures and more extreme weather events, she says.

The report was commissioned by the Ministry of Health and published by the Institute of Environmental Science and Research.

“The risks outlined in this report show why we need to act to reduce climate pollution now, as well as prepare for the level of climate change that is already set to happen,” Ms Genter says.

“The flooding and evacuation of Edgecumbe caused serious disruption to people’s lives. Already this year we have seen how a storm like cyclone Fehi caused a state of emergency in Buller and Dunedin.

“Today’s report maps out where the problems will be. Allergens and irritants in air, extreme weather events, ultra-violet solar radiation, and vector-borne, water-borne and infectious diseases might all increase in the coming decades and they have the potential to impact on our health and the health of our loved ones.

“The spread of infectious disease, particularly in our water sources, is of concern and needs greater attention.”

The Ministry of Health will be working with district health boards – many of which are already doing a lot of work on this – to become more sustainable and reduce their carbon footprints.

The Ministry has asked ESR to provide scientific advice on how the health sector can adapt to climate change.

Source: Associate Minister of Health