National FOMA collectivise Māori interests, shares information, and creates scale and opportunities to influence change for the betterment of members.
The focus was on Māori trusts, incorporations and land holding entities with a main interest in forestry and farming (agriculture/horticulture). Fisheries came later in the 1990s as part of the Sealord deal, marking full and final settlement of Māori commercial fishing claims under the Treaty of Waitangi. This included 50% of Sealord Fisheries and 20% of all new species brought under the quota system, more shares in fishing companies, and $18 million in cash. In total it was worth around $170 million.
“We really snookered that space but the primary industries – forestry and farming – were our focus really. When you look back over time, that didn’t really change over the first two decades. What we’ve changed however, is our ability to connect with different farming systems, diverse ways to farm, and opportunities to network and share what each other is doing – incremental improvements,” says Te Taru. “The last decade has seen a significant swing in change and added value. Most of New Zealand’s forests are on Māori-owned land. But when you look back at forestry, we had to take what we could because we didn’t have the cash. So we leased a lot of our land to forestry giants like Fletcher Challenge Forests and Carter Holt Harvey. Of course, they took the major part of the stumpage while we took a small share of it. In effect, we took the sawdust and they took the logs,except for entities such as Ngāti Tūwharetoa forests.“When you look at the earlier days of the Muruparas and the Kaingaroas, that’s when jobs were aplenty in forestry because the corporates had sawmills generating work, and there were a lot of forestry gangs operating. But what happened, particularly from 1987 when government interests in forestry were effectively sold-off and corporatised, was significant restructuring of the industry, shrinking of forestry contracts and closing of mills. This led to significant unemployment and decimation of these forestry communities, made worse by the purchase and ownership of the trees by overseas interests with no interest in adding value, but simply wanting the logs. This was a significant swing away from added-value to just the logs.
“Sawmills and plants that employed our people closed,and increasingly the trees became owned by foreign interests. This sad saga is the legacy of forestry. It still exists today and has left a bitter memory in the minds of many of our landowners.
“However, there is an opportunity for change and for Māori to own the trees, create co-operative scale,control supply and be self-determining with added value opportunities for greater economic and social returns. This will revitalise our regional economies and communities.
“How can we do this? Well many of the leaseholds held by corporate interests are nearing completion and these lands will return to Māori. Crown forest lands are returning to Māori. When you couple this with the fact that Māori own the bulk of land best suited to forestry across the motu – estimated to be well in excess of300,000 hectares – then forestry under Māori control contributors to the socio-economic and cultural needsof its people.
“That comes from owning your own trees, determining your destiny and disconnecting yourself from the memory of forestry as a sad legacy, to one of immense opportunity.
“Given all of this, the ultimate is to look at how we can collectivise our interests to create economic scale so we can pull our interest together at a national level –like a Fonterra model – owning the trees and therefore the supply. If we can do that, we can control the industry and influence the industry for change. Forestry has got that potential. Forestry has its place.”Te Taru says much of Māori-owned land is best suited for forestry because back time all the best parts of the land did not go to Māori. He says Māori has lost 95% of its land since the signing of the treaty. The 5% remaining is often hilly and steep, while the bulk of the flat lands went to non-Māori farmers. These lands were great for higher-yielding dairy farms but now the environmental impacts are starting to bite. This is where forestry has a significant advantage and Māori are potentially in the box seat for change.
“We can make this change happen through collective action, and take control of the forestry industry.Considerable forestry research has occurred over the years where major added-value opportunities have been identified. FOMA can play a part in advocating and advancing conversations in this space, aligned not only with the commercial opportunities and optimisation of land use but also with our kaitiaki responsibilities. It’s something that Māori can and must lead. We can no longer just look at the commercial returns. We must place more emphasis on our cultural values. Holistically we’re dealing with our assets across a spectrum of social, cultural, economic, environmental and spiritual wellbeing – that’s the journey.
“And when people ask what’s our difference, our difference is we’re Māori and we carry a set of values with us that we cannot compromise. We must stay true to those values. It’s not a question of just having a healthy bank balance but of advancing a healthy people.I’d like to see a greater emphasis on distributions ‘inkind’ and not just on money – where people can feed their families, get to be more sociably adjusted, get educated, get to be environmentally tuned as we once were. All those matters of well-being.”
becomes a reality. This is where co-operation on a national scale by Māori means we can essentially own the trees, control supply and in turn control thedown stream opportunities, which are huge.”Te Taru uses his small incorporation, Pukahukiwi Kaokaoroa Inc, as an example.
“We were approached by forestry interests nearly 30 years ago to lease our land for forestry. We were sheep and beef farmers back then, and struggling.We rejected this approach, partnered up with our neighbouring incorporation and converted to dairy farming. At the same time we planted areas of the farm that were best suited for trees, and which we own and have been harvesting.
“More recently, given water quality, and environmental issues, and the state of dairy farming in our lake catchment, we decided to sell out from dairy farming and convert more of our farm to trees. We’re debt free and have 150 hectares of our own trees with the opportunity to plant more; and we’re into farm tourism and papakāinga developments. All this would not have happened had we maintained the corporate legacy of leasing land to the forestry giants. We’d have been receiving the sawdust, while they’d have owned the trees and the major benefits for at least another 30 years.”
Rotoma, another incorporation in Te Arawa, now owns all its trees. It bought out the corporate interests over 14 years ago and is harvesting forests worth over$100 million. As a result, they are significant investors in property and other businesses, and substantial Te Taru was intrigued by an innovation in the sheep and beef industry in the United States – an idea tha the believes can be transferred to the forestry industry.“Companies are making synthetic meats with all the nutrient value of real meat. It looks like real meat,it smells like real meat, tastes like real meat but it’svegetable or synthetic mix and seemingly healthier than the real thing. Why not a tree burger? Trees are fundamentally starch and carbohydrates so it’s possible.
“‘I would love to drive into a burger bar of the future and say, ‘I’ll have a tree burger with manuka and kawakawa filling please’. The response might be, ‘did you say three burgers?’ ‘No, a tree burger’. Now that would be really adding value to trees and a conversation that the millennials of the future may well look forward to.”