Fonterra is receiving a $550 million cash boost following the sale of its 50% stake in pharmaceutical maker, DFE Pharma.
The new Māori Land Productivity Initiative, Te Kokiri mo te Whainga Hua o Nga Whenua Māori, is the private sector's response to the Māori Economic Development Panel's recommendation 17 to raise the productivity of Māori land.
The Federation of Māori Authorities chief executive Te Horipo Karaitiana has agreed to chair the group, while rural sector heavyweights DairyNZ, Beef + Lamb and Landcare Research are also foundation members.
Members of the Initiative will meet next month to review their existing land productivity improvement programmes, align them where appropriate and ensure they are strongly targeted at the needs of Māori landowners.
It will report publicly on its initial action points before Waitangi Day, where it will brief the iwi Chairs Forum on its work.
The chairman of the Māori Economic Development Panel, Ngahiwi Tomoana, says an estimated 1.5 million hectares of New Zealand land is owned collectively or individually by Māori, but a 2011 Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry and Te Puni Kokiri report suggested 80% of Māori freehold farming land was either underperforming or underutilised and not even close to reaching the land's productivity potential.
"Getting the productivity of all Māori-owned land up to the world's best standards is perhaps the most important contribution Māori can make to improving New Zealand's exports and driving economic growth," Tomoana says.
Te Horipo Karaitiana, chief executive of the Federation of Māori Authorities, says the Initiative would act quickly and efficiently to get in place specific programmes to assist Maori landowners to upgrade the productivity of their land.
"This is an issue we've been working on for some time, and to get so many of the key players invested will be of enormous value. The group is Maori-led, industry and university facilitated, and will involve no cost to the taxpayer, while unlocking huge returns for Maori and all of New Zealand."
Māori Trustee Jamie Tuuta says identifying and unlocking the potential of Māori land and assets is critical for Māori and all New Zealand.
"The Māori Trustee organisation manages around 7% of Māori land. One of our key aims is to work collaboratively to develop solutions that enable Māori to achieve higher aspirations for their land and assets. The Māori Land Productivity Initiative takes a big step forward on this path by putting the people with the most up-to-date research, practical knowledge and resources around one table to improve the productivity of Māori land."
Fonterra chairman Sir Henry van der Heyden says the initiative complements the cooperative's existing relationships with its Māori suppliers.
"We already work closely with a number of our Māori suppliers and we welcome the opportunity to further build on this and make New Zealand land more productive for dairying."
Industry-good body DairyNZ chief executive Tim Mackle agrees. "Dairy farmers depend on improving productivity to drive sustainable growth and profitability. We are looking forward to working with the rest of the agricultural sector to ensure Māori are gaining the greatest value possible from their land," he says.
Beef + Lamb New Zealand CEO Dr Scott Champion says the meat industry contributes more than 14% of New Zealand's export earnings, and saw strong opportunities for growth. Improved land productivity will be a key component in achieving that growth, he said.
"Māori have to be part of that growth and we welcome the opportunity to represent our industry on this important initiative."
ZESPRI CEO Lain Jager welcomed the opportunity for the kiwifruit industry to be involved.
"Māori growers and incorporations are already an important part of the industry, accounting for approximately 10% of the country's kiwifruit production. As the industry looks to grow, however, there is going to be further potential and demand for the development of new orchards in established regions. Māori are well placed to capitalise on this opportunity."
Massey Vice-Chancellor Steve Maharey says the initiative is fully in line with the university's objectives of providing innovative responses to social, economic, cultural and environmental issues, and being a world leader in agri-food, one of its areas of specialisation.
"We are developing economically and environmentally sustainable farming systems and one of the ways that we do that is through the creation of new knowledge and new technologies that have the potential to enhance the economic wellbeing of communities, industries and nations. Sharing our expertise and applying the talents of our staff and students to solving the big issues the world faces is a key responsibility for Massey. Sustainable land use, water use and food production are among the biggest of those issues."
Dr Richard Gordon, CEO of Landcare Research Manaaki Whenua, said that the Crown Research Institute is enthusiastic to contribute its science and information systems in sustainable land use and experience in working with Maori organisations to develop suitable land management and governance approaches.
Tomoana says the scope of the work is already impressive. "Let's bring it all together and make it work for Māori," he says.