Māori kiwifruit growers thrive despite Covid 19 setbacks

By Herewini Waikato

Māori grew about 10% of the volume of kiwifruit exported from New Zealand last year.

That translates to about $114 million worth of revenue coming into Māori business pockets, according to Māori Kiwifruit Growers chairman Anaru Timutimu.

He told Te Ao Marama that this will continue to rise as consumers around the world during Covid 19 want more fresh fruit, such as the New Zealand kiwifruit.

Experienced workers may be able to earn up to $40 an hour.

This news was warmly welcomed by Māori Investment Ltd, which owns and operates Kiwifruit orchids Whiritoa in Te Teko and Rauotehuia orchid in Awakeri.

But even though experienced workers can get up to $40 an hour at picking time there is a serious shortage in the industry.

Gold kiwifruit from the Whiritoa orchard, to be picked in March

6000 workers needed

An industry forecast shows 26,000 workers are needed in the industry this year but there is a shortage of 6,000 workers to get the job done.

 “It is because borders are closed and we are feeling the weight of not having extra harvesters available at the moment,” Māori Investment Ltd chief executive Kiriwaitingi Rei said.

These orchards are near the river of Rangitaiki and the mountains of Otamaroa in the Bay of Plenty. They have won numerous awards and placed first in the OGR earnings in the Eastern Bay.

Whiritoa orchard operates 6.85 canopy hectares of conventional gold and 5.3 canopy hectares of organic gold. Both Whiritoa and Rauotehuia are managed by wahine toa.  All staff are Māori and come from the nearby communities.  

 “We will have to spread risk this year,” Whiritoa manager Helen Scott said. “Usually, we love to have Māori working our whenua.

Mahi to be done

“If that can't happen, we spread risk and we get who we can get.”

Rauotehuia orchard manager Kristine Savage believes even with Covid 19 it is business as usual. Uunvaxed or vaxed, there is mahi to be done, she said. “Our people are happy to talk about Covid 19 and work together by having those vaxed work in one area and those unvaxxed in another. ''

Kaumātua and Poutīkanga for both orchards Rex Anderson is confident the picking gangs from last year “who did a wonderful job” will make themselves available this year despite the Covid traffic light system. He is adamant they will direct themselves and harvest safely. Anderson is happy about the job opportunities for his people in Kawerau to Ruatoki. Te Mahoe to Matata. Poroporo to Te Teko that both these orchids have provided over the many years.

Kiwifruit harvesting will begin at the end of March this year.