Spotlight on Maori agribusiness

JAMIE BALL
Last updated 17:14 19/06/2013

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Agribusiness

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How will Maori land be more productive by 2025? That was the question aired in a Fieldays seminar hosted by Ben Dalton of the Ministry of Primary Industries.

A panel of experts and entrepreneurs sat in to field the questions raised by Dalton, as well as questions from the plain-speaking floor.

The Maori economy is arguably the sleeping giant of our rural economy, and it's in all our interests that we wake it up, such will be the likely trickle-down effects throughout the entire country.

It's estimated that 40 per cent of fishing quotas are controlled by Maori; 43 per cent of forestry grown in this country is on Maori land, while 25 per cent of our beef and lamb is farmed on Maori land.

The stats are impressive but the potential is nonetheless gigantic. There are currently an estimated 960,000 hectares of freehold Maori land with the potential to be converted to efficient dairy, beef or sheep farming operations.

Then there are the more peripheral stretches where forestry and manuka honey, for example, can bring in further millions.

Unlike a generation ago, the foremost issue with Maori agribusiness is not how to acquire the resources but how to develop those resources, many of which are underperforming.

A further, long-term issue involves pushing Maori agribusiness further up the value chain.

Miraka and the manuka honey industry innovations are strong examples on how to do just that, though they sadly serve, at present, as laudable exceptions rather than the rule.

Again, a comprehensive, third-level education - the growing bane threatening so much of our agribusiness in the decade to come - will be key to steering us where we truly want to go as a collective rural economy, and not just where we happen to end up.

The panel also urged the necessity for Maori hapu and iwi to work together first and foremost, but through a process of aggregation rather than amalgamation. If this is achieved, it opens up wider vistas for inter-iwi trade.

Undoubtedly, there are a range of strong and diverse views within Maoridom that have to be first fielded and addressed within, and this is not always an easy or quick task. Once that is achieved, they can aim to interface with wider industry groups and, in turn, international markets.

Because most Maori farm land will not, in general, be sold, there is obviously little impetus to farm for capital gain.

In real terms, that means Maori must farm in an even more innovative and productive manner than the wider industry: because of that very same succession-basis, they must pass on the land to the next generation in even better condition, so caring for the land is sacrosanct.

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This balancing act would challenge the very finest farmers in this country, be they Ngati Pakeha or Maori, and there is no quick fix.

There is also, apparently, the need to inspire those in Maori farming to have higher aspirations, while keeping in mind economies of scale. This means working smarter and using a strategic, long-term vision that can be applied on the day-to-day level.

A strong emphasis needs, of course, to be put on the need to develop leadership, governance and a competent, qualified skill-base, and achieving that may come down more to changes of attitude at home, school and work rather than changes of legislation in Wellington.

In short: it's in our hands.

The panel included Traci Houpapa (Chair of Federation of Maori Authorities), Hemi Rau (Otakawiwi Topu), Jamie Tuuta (CEO Maori Trustee), Kingi Smiler (Chairman of Miraka) and Hinerangi Raumati (Chair of Parininihi ki Waitotara).

- Straight Furrow

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