Farm scheme has iwi land working

ELTON SMALLMAN
Last updated 05:00 13/02/2013
Farming apprentices Lawrence Nikau and Te Rangimarie Biddle
CHRIS HILLOCK/Fairfax NZ
FARMING FOR THE FUTURE: Lawrence Nikau, left, and Te Rangimarie Biddle are taking on a farming apprenticeship to get Waikato Maori working their own lands.

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Two men have made career changes and entered the dairy industry as apprentice farmers in an initiative to get Maori managing herds on their own lands in the Waikato.

The apprenticeship scheme is in its first month of operation and is the brainchild of the Matahuru Marae community to train and educate their families and make existing tribal lands more productive.

Lawrence Nikau, 40, and Te Rangimarie Biddle, 42, are the first intake of the scheme and are working on a farm next to their marae near Ohinewai to learn the business of dairy farming.

"I am enjoying the challenge and it is something different from being a truck driver for 20 years," Mr Nikau said.

Te Puni Kokiri and the Ministry of Social Development provides funding to subsidise their wages and the Nikau Whanau Trust is matching the government contribution to the value of one fulltime wage.

"I made a big decision and this is huge for me," Mr Nikau said.

"We have been looking at it for the last 10 years - putting someone in here on a cadetship to get things up and going and paving a way for our younger generation."

They will earn qualifications in dairy farming and agriculture through AgITO with both practical and book work and the marae was keen to have people there who would be willing to put in the time and effort needed to succeed.

"They wanted someone with a good work ethic, someone who is going to turn up every day.

"We didn't want to put our young ones on here at the moment because it might be too overwhelming."

Matahuru Marae is part of the Waikato-Tainui collective and has taken a small but significant step in creating education and employment opportunities for tribal members.

"I could've done it through Wintec but we needed the support from the marae whanau to say "if you do this, if you get this right, you can start training our rangatahi and our future generations".

Mr Biddle - a cousin of Mr Nikau - grew up in the area and turned his hand to truck driving but wanted to see the whanau land being put to good use for the owners.

"The drive has always been there," he said. "We all knew that this was going to happen."

He has prior experience in farming but the apprenticeship is a way to gain credibility in the industry and he hopes to pass on his new-found knowledge to the next generation of Maori farmers.

"It justifies the effort we put in. There's a lot of rangatahi at the pa that want to move into this too, so we want to be able to give them the right training."

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- Waikato Times

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