The increase in the average yield per hectare for Green was a key factor in “remarkable” volume growth in the 2016-17 season, says Zespri chief executive Lain Jager.
That growth can come in a number of ways, he told Rural News. It can come from new developments on bare land or from mergers or acquisitions, and a large proportion of Maori land is leased to outside investors.
“At some point in time those arrangements will come to an end, so we are looking at what we can do to upskill and help the landowners so when their time comes they are ready to take over and manage the orchards,” he says.
That’s just one aspect of the forum which has been created to advocate for the interests of Maori growers in the sector; it is a partnership between Maori kiwifruit growers, Te Puni Kokiri and Zespri. Hunia says they have “got things pretty tidy but it is not without its challenges. We know that, and we know we will have to rely on our partnerships and goodwill from a range of groups and good information and support.”
The genesis for the forum was in the Kiwifruit Industry Strategy Project which highlighted the needs of the growing Maori interest in the sector.
Provision was made on the NZ Kiwifruit Growers Inc board for a Maori role and then discussions continued, culminating in the election of an executive committee in early 2017.
There are 11 representatives covering the geographical regions where Maori orchards are now growing, from Tai Tokerau in the north, to a strong presence across the Bay of Plenty, on the East Coast and at the top of the South Island.
Hunia says initially the forum involves the orchards but it has a holistic outlook.
“So we’re looking at where Maori are across the industry currently, in terms of the workforce, where some of the gaps are, and what we can do to help and get more Maori right through the whole industry – in orchards, management, marketing and, who knows, ideally around the world being advocates and branding and marketing NZ kiwifruit.”
The forum has three or four key objectives.
“One is training and professional development: looking at what are the courses, what are the programmes, who are the providers at the moment; where can the forum help support, where can we steer people into career pathways?
“Information dissemination is a big focus for the forum: looking at what’s the latest trends in R&D, what are some of the market trends, where is the industry going and where can we be placed to help support and enhance that. Also data – just understanding more about Maori orchards.”
Upskilling the Maori landowners is another objective.
They now have a “really exciting” partnership supported by Te Puni Kokiri for two years to help establish administration and bringing people together to run a hui, strongly supported by Zespri.
“We can’t acknowledge them enough in terms of having an industry body supporting our initiatives. We meet monthly; we do a lot with NZKGI, supported by Nikki Johnson (chief executive) and Doug Brown (chairman) and the team there has been fantastic. So these are really exciting times, but you can only go one step at a time.
“Ultimately it is about the forum being able to demonstrate value to the Maori kiwifruit growers. We are adding value to what is available to every grower and [asking] what would help in two or three years in the discussion about financial sustainability of the forum.
“It is an easier discussion to have if you can demonstrate clear tangible benefits.”
Zespri chief executive Lain Jager says Zespri works for all kiwifruit growers to provide the tools and information they need to grow their businesses and Maori growers are an important and growing part of the kiwifruit industry.
“This is supporting the development of a strong and cohesive eco-system for Maori growers in the New Zealand kiwifruit industry,” he says.