Young Māori Farmer finalists take horticultural leadership tour

By Jessica Tyson

The three finalists in this year’s Ahuwhenua Young Māori Grower Award are flourishing as leaders after having the opportunity to develop their skills in an intense study tour.

The finalists are Finnisha Tuhiwai 25, Brandon Cross, 24, and Maatutaera Akonga, 26, and the three-day-tour was designed to give the finalists an insight into the innovation in horticulture and to be inspired by Māori leaders and learn from key people in the sector.

“We did a lot of travelling around, visiting places, doing a lot of work in horticulture and just learning a lot of new things that are not just for what I do in this industry. So it was awesome,” says Tuhiwai who works as a packhouse manager for Maungatapere Berries in Maungatapere, a rural township west of Whangarei.

As part of the tour, the finalists visited the Ngāti Pahauwera Development Trust orchard in Napier to be interviewed and filmed. They also took part in a leadership programme with special guest Kristy Roa, the 2019 Ahuwhenua Young Māori Farmer Sheep and Beef winner.

They visited the Plant and Food Research facility in Hawke's Bay, were hosted by the Turners and Growers innovation team and Berries Farm NZ, and participated in a presentation from Horticulture New Zealand.

“It taught me a lot more confidence and to continue striving for what I want in this industry and just keep going and just keep working hard,” Tuhiwai says.

Judge Matiu Julian of Primary ITO says the group also had dinner with the chair of Ngati Kahungunu, Ngahiwi Tomoana, his wife Mere and Karl Wixon, a designer, educator, project manager and “kaupapaholic”.

“All the finalists were treated to stories of inspiration and wisdom they will never forget,” Julian says.

Developing Māori leaders

With Māori making up 28% of the workforce in the horticulture sector but only 4% in leadership roles, the award aims to develop Māori leaders in the farming and horticulture sectors.

Julian says all three finalists are already in leadership roles but they are the "exception rather than the rule".

He says the challenge before them is to think about the types of experiences they want to have, how they want to grow and how they can give back to their whānau and communities.

“There are many examples of Māori excellence for the finalists to be inspired by and being Māori is to be gifted with talent and vision, with an innate sense for the health and wellbeing of others. This is manaakitanga.”

Tuhiwai says it’s important for other Māori in the industry to strive as leaders.

“I believe Māori are natural leaders and, when they’re shown the ladder to climb in this leadership, especially in horticulture, they will achieve a lot in this industry.”

The Ahuwhenua Young Māori Grower Award is built on the vision of leaders Sir Apirana Ngata and Lord Bledisloe who sought to inspire and encourage Māori to excel in the wider agri-sector.

The winner will be announced in Rotorua on Friday, November 20 at the Ahuwhenua Trophy awards dinner.

About the finalists:

  • Brandon Darny Paora Nga Moki Cross - Ngāi Tūkairangi , Ngāi Te Rangi, Te Whānau -a-Apanui, Ngāti Porou. Brandon works as a trainee orchard manager for the large kiwifruit orchard management and post-harvest company Seeka.
  • Maatutaera Tipoki Akonga - Ngāi Tahu, Ngāti Porou, Ngāti Kahungungu. Maatutaera works as a senior leading hand at Llewellyn Horticulture in the Hastings area.
  • Finnisha Nicola Letitia Tuhiwai - Ngāti Te Rino rāua ko Te Parawhau ngā hapū, ko Ngāpuhi te iwi. Tuhiwai works as a packhouse manager for Maungatapere Berries west of Whangarei in rural township Maungatapere.