Maori agriculture selling itself short

POTENTIAL: Massey University's Dr Nick Roskruge says "one of the important issues for Maori is to think about diversification into areas like tourism and manuka. It's a question of getting people to think outside the box.''
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POTENTIAL: Massey University's Dr Nick Roskruge says "one of the important issues for Maori is to think about diversification into areas like tourism and manuka. It's a question of getting people to think outside the box.''

Maori agriculture has "huge" potential for development but only 20 per cent of farmland is well developed, 40 per cent is underperforming, and 40 per cent is under-used, says a Massey University academic.

Lecturer and researcher and Kaiarahi Maori Dr Nick Roskruge said about 720,000 hectares of Maori land was farmed, returning $750 million a year, but its short-term potential was $6 billion.

Maori are most strongly represented in the sheep and beef cattle sectors, with dairying becoming increasingly important. About 15,000 Maori are employed in the sector.

"Some of the challenges for developing Maori agriculture include multiple ownership, absentee owners, land fragmentation and access to capital," Roskruge told the Future Farms conference.

Maori were also averse to risk, in part because they regarded land as a resource to pass on to future generations.

Roskruge said the two types of management of Maori farms were incorporations, which administered 14 per cent of land, and Ahuwhenua trusts, which managed 49.5 per cent of land in more than 5000 trusts. Twenty per cent of land had no formal structure, and 20 per cent was leased.

He highlighted four examples of successful Maori agribusinesses.

The Mangatu Incorporation, based near Gisborne, was diversified into farms, vineyards and forestry. Its assets were $162m and it had turnover of $54m in 2011.

Nelson-based Wakatu Incorporation had 3400 owners, an asset base of over $250m, and an integrated food agribusiness that included horticulture, seafood and beverages.

In Taranaki, the Parininihi ki Waitotara Incorporation owned 20,000ha of productive dairy land and had shareholder net equity of $62.5m. It ran 14 dairy farms with 7700 cows, and won the Ahuwhenua trophy for Maori dairy farming in 2006.

Northwest of Taupo, the Tuaropaki Trust had more than 2000 owners and a diverse portfolio, including geothermal power generation, pastoral production and vineyards, and was a shareholder in dairy processor Miraka Ltd.

"One of the important issues for Maori is to think about diversification into areas like tourism and manuka," Roskruge said.

"It's a question of getting people to think outside the box.

"I think more and more people are being creative about how they see their natural resources."

The Dominion Post