The Government is giving $6 million to farmer-led catchment groups in Canterbury and Otago to improve water health.
Dr Marion Johnson's project, Indigenous Agroecology (He Ahuwhenua Taketake), will draw upon Matauranga (the Maori knowledge system) to create a unique farming model which values diversity, aligns it with science, and preserves traditional knowledge.
Dr Johnson is a fellow at the university's Centre for Sustainability: Agriculture, Food, Energy, Environment.
She will lead a team of researchers aiming to develop an economically viable, multi-functional working model of agricultural stewardship that will supply unique farm products with a low chemical signature, to meet a growing global demand.
"We will be investigating how science can combine with traditional knowledge to achieve the goals of clean water, healthy land, healthy produce and a sustainable resilient farming system," Dr Johnson says.
"We'll record traditional knowledge of land and water management with respect to animal health and mahinga kai (food production), and identify indigenous perspectives on biodiversity, and the recollection of land use. We'll then align scientific methodology with that traditional knowledge to develop and demonstrate a viable farm system."
The project is being funded by Nga Pae o te Maramatanga, one of New Zealand's seven Centres of Research Excellence.
Nga Pae o te Maramatanga has Centre-based researchers as well as researchers located around an extensive national network of participating research entities. It carries out research of relevance to Maori communities, underpinned by the vision to realise the creative potential of Maori communities and to bring about positive change and transformation in New Zealand and wider world. The official launch of this project takes place at the International Indigenous Development Research Conference 2012, June 27-30.
Dr Johnson comes from a farming background, has degrees in Agricultural Science and Environmental Biology, and a master's in Veterinary Parasitology. She has recently completed a research project into using aspects of Te Rongoa (Maori traditional medicine) for farm use.