The new Food and Fibre Centre of Vocational Excellence (CoVE) announced on September 3rd is a wide-ranging collaboration
involving 54 organisations with expertise spanning across the entire food and fibre sector. This includes Ara Institute
of Canterbury Ltd and other several education providers, as well as industry associations, tertiary providers, Māori,
employers, employees, and standard-setting bodies.
As part of the NZIST’s strategy to let the needs of industry inform vocational education, training for employment and
entrepreneurship within New Zealand’s primary sector will be guided by the new Food and Fibre CoVE.
While the Consortium will be based at the Eastern Institute of Technology (EIT) in Hawke’s Bay, the inclusion of Ara
recognizes Canterbury’s place as New Zealand’s largest and consistently high-performing agricultural region; one that
contributes significantly to New Zealand’s reputation as global powerhouse of agricultural exports, agritech innovation
and the production of merino wool.
Canterbury alone produces one-fifth of the nation’s agricultural GDP and employs nearly 20,000 people in this sector.
The region is also home to Te Hōno, brainchild of New Zealand Merino CEO John Brakenridge and now an ever-expanding
group of New Zealand agribusiness leaders.
There is a natural connection between the primary sector and Ara through the Institute’s delivery of programmes from
towns and cities set within a strong rural heartland, including in Timaru where Ara looks to work closely with the SCCC
and Venture Aoraki to improve economic development and awareness in the region.
Ara is also well-placed to contribute to the CoVE through its strategic alignment with ChristchurchNZ and its
development of economic ‘supernodes’, one of which is focused upon food and fibre. The regional development organization
summarizes its sector goal by stating: “Canterbury can leverage its current global reputation as a leader in smart
agritech solutions” in an online positioning document.
The ChristchurchNZ supernode material also explicitly connects the concept of a ‘fourth industrial revolution’ with its
aspirations for the food, fibre and agritech industry. This involves deploying ideas, skills and technological advances
in ‘big data’ analysis, automation, sensors and AI as part of development of the ‘internet of things’; genetic
alteration and the use of novel by-products and biological processes.
In keeping with this need for constant innovation in agricultural technology and environmental outcomes, within
Canterbury both Ara and UC produce world-class engineering and software development talent, while Lincoln University
contains one of the largest groupings of land-based researchers in the Southern Hemisphere.
Ara’s engineering and ICT students and graduates have a natural home beyond their regular course of study, as the
Institute is also home to partner Te Ōhaka – Centre for Innovation. The presence of Te Ōhaka, which was formed in
collaboration with Ministry of Awesome, has led to the development of a number of agritech start-ups including
YieldTech, which is addressing the challenge of automated fruit-picking, and PhD candidate Ngārie Scartozzi’s ‘EClean
Bioreactor’ which is designed to minimise the impact of farm runoff by removing and recovering nitrates and other
But Ara also embodies other valuable perspectives on food and fibre. Containing a fashion design school, a training
facilities for chefs and other hospitality workers, as well as sustainability and outdoor education departments, Ara is
the site of progressive thinking about agronomics and the sourcing of fresh sustainable produce and meats; textile use
and re-use, environmentally-friendly design and sustainable economics and business models.
Jeremy Baker, the new Consortium chair, says of the establishment of the new CoVE: “This is a decisive step forward in
the partnership between the food and fibre sectors and government. It shows an unprecedented level of collaboration
within the sector, and CoVE will be learner-focused, led by industry and enabled by government."