Finding the key to future prosperity
M-aori land offers huge opportunities for the kiwifruit industry but people and the communities they live in have to be considered if that land is to be unlocked.
That's the conclusion from a new report, It's More Than Just Kiwifruit: The Impact On Regional New Zealand As We Try To Meet The Growing Demand For Kiwifruit Development, by Jessica Smith. Of Te Atihaunui a Paparangi/Ngati Tamakopiri, Ngai Tahu/Ngati Kahungunu decent she’s a business manager of strategic trusts, incorporations and joint ventures at Te Tumu Paeroa, which supports owners in the development of M-aori land. She wrote the report as part of being awarded a scholarship to complete the Kellogg Rural Leadership Programme.
Not that the subject matter was much of a leap . . . she said her entire professional career is devoted to supporting M-aori communities and owners in making the best of
their whenua (land).
But it is challenging.
What the report concludes is that while the kiwifruit industry is hungry for growth, M-aori landowners tend not to be interested in business at any cost. Instead, she said, factors like the environmental effects of orchard operations, employment opportunities for locals, and community development play a big part in their decisionmaking. “In my job I work with M-aori growers and am currently responsible for strategic investment in kiwifruit,” she said.
“However, there didn't seem to be any ground-up research around the impacts of such activity, and how the people involved get their voices heard. So what I wanted to do was work with M-aori landowners and their communities
and find out what was important to them.”
For her report, she focused on Te Whanau Apanui in the eastern Bay Of Plenty, a relatively remote area just over 100 kilometres from Opotiki. Like many other regions rich in M-aori land, much of the whenua is under-utilised and is therefore ripe for development such as kiwifruit orchards. But despite being not far from other successful orchards, that development hasn't happened, and she looked deeply into why that might be, and what could be done to change that. What she found was a number of barriers to development, the biggest being access to capital, and the difficulty of timely decision-making when – as is often the case – there are multiple landowners involved with a piece of land.
“But where there are challenges there is also often opportunity,” she said.
“In the case of multiple-ownership, for example, there can be hold-ups with decision-making, but at the same time you have a number of people who have a vested interest in the land and that can be a big advantage.”
At the core of her research is the importance of economic prosperity in the regions, and how kiwifruit can both gain from that – by accessing productive land – and contribute to it.
“It’s really about the impact on regional New Zealand as we try to meet the growing demand for kiwifruit development,” she said.
“The Government’s strategy to foster regional prosperity aligns with global growth opportunities in kiwifruit. Zespri’s growth strategy and market demand. The common denominator is that the regions are key to achieving that.”
Taking a people-centric approach by conducting surveys on-line, via post and kanohi ki te kanohi (face to face), she identified three key themes that needed to be addressed;
• The impact of industry growth on people;
• The impact on the land; and
• The importance of social investment.
The people of Te Whanau Apanui – and other regions like it – want meaningful employment and development in their communities that takes care of their basic needs.That means everything from having access to a decent supermarket to not having to drive over 100 kilometres to buy petrol.
“Just those simple things mean people have more money in their pockets and that can make a big difference to their lives.” In terms of the potential impact on the land, M-aori took their role as kaitiaki (guardians) seriously and needed access to the right information about, for example, onorchard practices. And with regard to social investment, the upshot of development had to be better conditions for the community and its people, not worse.
While her report looks into those issues closely, she believes more work must be done to truly understand the potential direct and indirect effects of kiwifruit expansion. “My passion and my purpose is all about M-aori land development and helping whanau grow their whenua. Kiwifruit offers an alternative growth opportunity for our people. We have the land . . . now we just need to figure out how to make it work.”