New project to develop Māori-owned land in Gisborne expected to bring $60m in revenue

By Jessica Tyson

A lack of legal land access and governance in the past has limited Māori landowners in Gisborne from developing their land, but that's about to change with a new project Tūranga Whenua, Tūranga Tangata.

The project, led by Te Aitanga a Mahaki Trust in partnership with Māori landowners and government, plans to develop 106 blocks of Māori-owned land that have been identified as being capable of high-value horticulture to grow kiwi fruit.

More land blocks will also be developed for forestry and farming as part of the collective. Over a five year period, revenue from the entire project is expected to reach around $55 to $60 million dollars, says Willie Te Aho.

“We’re looking at 200 hectares of high-value horticulture…Basically you’ve got over $10million per year of revenue coming off these 200 hectares.”

So far 12 of the land blocks have been targeted for the establishment of kiwifruit gold crops.

Karen Pewhairangi of Te Aitanga a Mahaki says a goal of the Trust when planning the project was to develop land blocks close to marae to benefit tāngata whenua living there.

Tarere, Tapuihikitia and Takipū are some of the marae located next to some of the land bocks.

“Ko ngā uri o tēnei marae ka whai organga rātou…Ko Rua Ngarehu te ingoa o tenei whenua e noho mai tenei marae . Ko Rua Ngarehu hoki he whenua tino pai ki te whakatipu huakiwi.”

“The descendants of [Takipū Marae] will find a living here…Rua Ngarehu is the name of this land at this marae. Rua Ngarehu is also a great piece of land to grown kiwifruit.”

Irrigation system

Te Aho says, “the biggest challenge is around getting the infrastructure to get water to our lands”.

Traditionally, the Tūranga rohe has grown food crops like avocados, feijoas, and apples.

The Gisborne environment has proven in the past to provide the ideal climate for growing G3 kiwifruit crops. However, it doesn’t have natural rainfall required over summer months.

Therefore advisors from the Ministry for Primary Industries and Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment met with Te Aitanga a Mahaki Trust this week to discuss how to in store a water irrigation system to help during the summer months.  

Workforce development

Te Aho says the second challenge is workforce development. The Gisborne/Hawkes Bay region has the second-highest rate of unemployment than any other region in New Zealand, according to Stats NZ.

“We just need to start developing our workforce now so that, in two years’ time when we’re outing in the orchards and four years’ time when we’re managing the produce, that we’ve got our own people that we can take on to our lands and work.”

Te Aho says developing kiwi fruit crops could bring 120 new full-time equivalent positions for people in Tūranga.

“That’s from the level of engineering and building the orchards to the labour needed to harvest, to the marketing right through to packing and transportation.”

Pehwairangi says, “He kaupapa tino whakahirahira ki a mātou o tēnei takiwa nō te mea, ko a mātou nei whenua kei te noho manene kāore kē he oranga i roto i ngā mahi o tēnei wā.”

“This project is very important for us living in the region because our land has been alienated. There is no life in the work at this time,” says Pewhairangi.

Developments in the first year will be funded through the development of five joint ventures under a partnership structure between landowners and investors. Afterward, the Trust will look for funding from the Provincial Growth Fund and private investors.

The first developments are expected to tender for gold license in April 2020.