Digital technology and rural New Zealand can often feel like chalk and cheese. As the availability of intelligent infrastructure has accelerated in the main centres, many of our more remote locations have been left behind.
There is a certain charm to relaxed pace of these communities, but this is not without its drawbacks. One of the big issues is the impact of e-commerce on small producers of goods. With the internet replacing the middle-man, it can be difficult for small, technologically limited communities to sell their produce. This has detrimental effects on the economic and social health of regional New Zealand.
Bringing city tech to the farm
Loop.Local is working on a rural marketplace and technological infrastructure to support their vision of rejuvenating rural communities. Their unique mission aims to bridge the technological divide between rural and mainstream New Zealand. Of the 15 teams in this year’s Kiwi FinTech Accelerator they are one of two from the Southland region, bringing a less mainstream perspective to the fintech space.
To start with Loop.local is focusing on the ‘Longwood Loop’; a drive of 162 km which covers a circuit around the Longwood Mountains. The small rural townships here have seen more prosperous economic times. What was once a thriving rural community is now sparse and disconnected. As people have withdrawn from the area, the money has followed with no one nearby to buy produce or engage in social activities.
Robyn Guyton is the founder of Loop.Local as well as the Riverton local food co-op which has been run by volunteers for the last 28 years. She is a driving force behind the economic revitalisation of Riverton. She regularly sees local people travelling 80km to sell a few boxes of their own tomatoes. This just isn’t sustainable and there needs to be a better way to reconnect communities in Southland and help them flourish.
A better way
Robyn has seen the decline of her beloved rural communities first hand, beginning with school closures in the 1980’s. The unintended consequences of Government cost cutting for communities have been significant. “Now I’m a grandmother, I’m going to be a pioneer,” she says. “All the effort my grandparents and ancestors made to build these communities has been swept away. I want my children and grandchildren to have a sense of community again”.
Local communities need to be more self-sufficient. “If you get that community feeling going, it gives people a sense of purpose.“ Robyn’s vision is to bring the 4,000 people of the loop together as a virtual village. She’s already started with produce and services, and would like the loop to facilitate long term forecasting, planning crops up to three months in advance. “If we pick up the produce with an EV there’s little cost,” she says, highlighting just one of the ways that technology can bolster the vitality of this community.
Another issue for these communities is social isolation, and she would like to create a dozen small ‘hubs’ along the circuit to serve as collection points. Other services would include providing access and training in the technology being developed to support her marketplace.
Southland is just stop one on this recharging mission. Robyn plans to use the loop as a model for community rejuvenation both nationwide, and globally.
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