CSAFE’s origins lie in a series of contracts from 1995-2003 (Greening Food), which were funded by the Ministry of Science & Innovation (MSI). These contracts established the first body of social scientific research in New Zealand that explored the emergence of new forms of agriculture making claims of ‘sustainable’ management.
The ARGOS Project (Agriculture Research Group on Sustainability) began in 2005 as a long-term study of social, economic and environmental changes on farms and their relationships to more sustainable styles of production. It was also funded by MSI. CSAFE staff led the social and environmental research objectives. Extensions to the ARGOS project were granted in 2009 and 2011.
A related project on the effects of shelterbelts used surveys and field experiments to investigate how biodiversity conservation could be promoted using native shelterbelts (2007-2009, funded by FRST/JSPS).
A parallel rural stream has involved social responses to biotechnologies. In Constructive Conversations (2007-2009, funded by FRST), CSAFE staff studied how different groups, experts and stakeholders in primary industry sectors understand and utilise new technologies like biotechnologies or nutrigenomics. The Fate of Biotechnology (2006-2007, funded by MSI) deployed a series of national surveys to gauge public attitudes and responses to various GMO development scenarios. Indigenous Anti-Parasitic Plants (2007-2009, funded by MSI) investigated the effectiveness and practicality of a farm management strategy utilising naturally anti-parasitic indigenous plants.
In 2007, Organics Aotearoa NZ (the governmental steering group for the organics industry) conducted its first census of commercial activity around organic agriculture in New Zealand. CSAFE (in collaboration with the AgriBusiness Group) were contracted to survey organic exporters, local organic retailers and organic consumers to establish benchmarks as to the size of organic commerce in New Zealand. In 2009, a second contract was let for follow-up surveys.
Another group of projects examined farmer responses to external change. How Green Was My Valley (2007, funded by the University of Otago Research Grant) involved retrospective interviews with long-term farming families in Eastern Southland, looking at changes in the practices and culture of pastoral farming in Southland. Rural Futures (2008-2013, in collaboration with AgResearch) aims to support the New Zealand pastoral industry to adapt and remain sustainable in response to future market, societal and policy changes, which occur against a background of constrained natural resources.
A pilot project, funded by the Building Research Capability in the Social Sciences (BRCSS) Network, led from Auckland University, and involving two CSAFE members (2008-2009), led to the Biological Economies project (2010-2013, funded by Marsden). This project seeks to understand and theorise the dramatic changes that have been occurring in New Zealand’s biological economies in the last 20 years.