FOMA has had a cohort of members involved in horticulture for many years, and over 30 years the federation's interest in horticulture has increased.
In 2013, FOMA was successful with a Ministry of Primary Industries (MPI) Sustainable Farming Fund (SFF) bid, which initiated a project to improve productivity on Māori orchards, particularly kiwifruit, throughout the Bay of Plenty and across the country. This work led to the establishment of Tūhono Whenua Horticulture Ltd, which is driving initiatives for several Māori trusts in the region, advancing horticultural developments.
The commercial company is concentrating on kiwifruit because it is per hectare, one of the highest earning business types in the country.
It’s taken a little bit of time for Māori to catch-up into that space, however some of us in the Western Bay have been in this area for more than 30 years. Māori now realise that when they compare the returns from businesses like dairy, beef, lamb, sheep and so on, kiwifruit returns are higher than most other land based initiatives.”
FOMA model is to share the outcomes of projects with everyone in the membership and beyond. So, while this group is directly benefiting from the initiative, the learning or the knowledge transfer can be tapped into by all other existing and potential FOMA members.
Miro Ltd was initiated with FOMA’s support as a major shareholder, alongside shareholders of the Tūhono Whenua Horticulture project. Miro Ltd is a collective of Māori trusts across the country which are entering the blueberry industry. It is the first of its type, and while it has taken a couple of years to develop, over 23 trusts and incorporations are now involved.
“Blueberries are another high returning horticulture crop. Returns from your investment come in as little as three years. You’re unlikely to get that kind of return from other crops.”
FOMA has been a significant player in sharing these potential insights with its membership. One of the key outcomes from the SFF initiative, was to identify the principles on that make Māori different. Tūhono Whenua Horticulture is led by the principles of ‘by Māori, for Māori’, and are integrated into its approach for working with Māori trusts. It questions whether there are Māori managers onboard. How long an orchard has been leased to another group to look after. Whether owners have considered taking over operations themselves.
“We’re trying to make sure our people are starting to have these aspirations and help them to accomplish them. Each crop is forecasted a year ahead, so trusts must have enough money to get their orchardists onboard. Not all growers are big. Some are small, but they’re starting to think about how they can align as collectives and get their own manager in the future. There’s a lot to be said about putting our minds to growing our own food and vegetables and crops for the rest of the world to consume.
“As members, we also need to think about moving on from the ‘business as usual’ model where we have just one crop or are involved in only one industry, and consider slicing off a few hectares to produce something else. We should start modelling multiple crops that will get optimal returns for our people over a five to 10-year period. Therefore, we need to start doing the groundwork for what needs to be done because there are potentially great returns from being involved in horticulture. Members not currently in that area should - Dr Riri Ellis think seriously about how they can get into it.
“There’s a global demand for superfoods and for foods that are known to be very good for your health. Blueberries, like kiwifruit, have a number of health benefits. As a result, there is demand from global customers who are interested in very tasty, healthy and good-looking blueberries all year. Our job is to share these opportunities with our members. Avocados and honey are also good options moving forward.”
Being involved in horticulture is not without risks. Climatic changes – such as too much rain, frost and hail – naturally impact on crops but the vine-killing bacterial disease PSA has also posed a unique problem for the kiwifruit industry. Teamed with extensive capital outlay, Māori trusts and incorporations need to make sure they can overcome such events over a relatively short period of time. The same can be said of other horticultural products, where manuka honey for instance is being impacted by myrtle rust.
Iwi dynamics can make it challenging to work together in a commercial framework, it is imperative, for future development, to engage wholeheartedly in the principles of partnership and collaboration.
While iwi dynamics can make it challenging to work together in a commercial framework, it is imperative, for future development, to engage wholeheartedly in the principles of partnership and collaboration.
“One of our members, Ngāi Tukairangi Trust, has an orchard in Hastings. We learnt if you talk to the right people and if you approach them in a respectful way and use your culture as a means of connection, you can approach business ventures in a uniquely Māori way. You’ve just got to put your mind to that mission and see how you might work together in the long-term. We might be able to build employment collaboration or co-investment once we’ve learnt more about the area. The opportunity can also be a way to encourage more Māori from that region into the business initiative in their own right.
“We wholeheartedly need to think about that journey of extension in a proactive manner. That horizon for Māori incorporations and trusts is exciting.”