Obstacles, opportunities for Maori land

We often see articles in the media about the enormous amount of land held by the myriad descendants of Maori whanau who managed to retain rights to ancestral land - and the question is regularly asked “Is this land being used to best effect?”

An interesting session at the recent NZ Association of Resource Management Conference focused on two ways in which this is being addressed.

Probably the largest single area of Maori farmland in the country is managed by Wairarapa Moana Incorporation, on 10,695ha at Mangakino, being used as 2870ha in multiple dairy farms, 1325ha in sheep and beef and 6500ha in forestry.  

There are now 3000 shareholders in all this land, and a key driver of the incorporation is the need to protect and enhance the land asset with no adverse impact on the environment or succeeding generations enjoying benefits from their assets.   

Nick Hume described some of the efforts being made to create sustainable growth under policy limits.  For instance some of the dairy land has been run under System 5, which involves wide use of supplements.  They are now changing to System 3, and are considering some at System 2, using more pasture and tighter control of working expenses.

Charitable trust
Benefits derived from the commercial work of the incorporation are distributed to the shareholders, beneficiaries and their descendants by the Wairarapa Moana Trust, a charitable trust set up in 1987. While much focus has been on employment, training and job creation, more has been aimed at the provision of education grants and marae development.

The history of this organization represents clearly some of the difficulties faced by Maori over management of land.  The ancestral lands included Lake Wairarapa and a large adjoining area of fertile farmland, but were acquired by the Crown in the 1880s under pressure from colonial farmers.  

It took the original owners 45 years to achieve the promised compensation, which turned out to be in a different part of the country, and covered with scrub and bush.  This was then poorly managed by the Government until control was formally handed back in 1983.  The current able management of so large an area is testament to the work of many in the last 32 years.

The second presentation by Blair Waipara was on the work currently being done by The Maori Trustee (Te Tumu Paeroa) on assisting a plethora of Maori trusts and other entities to make the best use of their land, largely using a system based on land use capability measures.  

Land use
With around 90 staff, spread over six offices, they are managing land valued at around $900,000,000 spread over 97,611ha throughout the country, on behalf of 215,000 ownership interests.

With a policy of not using mortgage moneys to change land use, and dealing with many elderly owners, their task is not easy.  However, using collaboration and innovation, they are making steady progress in bringing land into profitable use, using farming and horticultural systems which are affordable and appropriate.

Multiple land ownership, and other systems introduced by governments over the last century haven’t given Maori people, and those who want to assist them, an easy road to take. But they are obviously trying hard.


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