Northern Hawke's Bay Summer Fruit - Ohuia Incorporation

Local iwi in northern Hawke’s Bay are using scientific knowledge to gain economic advantage from the local climate.
Iwi and a local Māori Incorporation are working together on a feasibility study on a commercial venture to grow varieties of fruit that will ripen early, in time for the lucrative Christmas market, on a large block of land north of Wairoa.  A key goal for the Incorporation is providing employment and horticultural training for local Māori.

The original impetus for the business came from world renowned fruit breeding scientist Allan White, now a Research Investment Scientist with crown research institute Plant & Food Research.

Allan grew up in northern Hawke’s Bay, as did his father and grandparents, who identified some years ago that the local climate had untapped potential to ripen fruit earlier than other New Zealand fruit growing regions.

In 2006, he put his idea to the then Ministry of Science, Research and Technology (MORST – now the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment), which was exploring opportunities to develop the Māori economy in northern Hawke’s Bay. They approached Ohuia Incorporation with a proposal that they partner to test his hypothesis.

The timing was perfect, says Allan White. Ohuia was keen to investigate alternative uses to traditional beef, sheep and cropping activities.

Backed by funding from MORST, a team of Plant & Food Research scientists, led by Dr Stuart Tustin, Ohuia Incorporation, and a local horticultural training association came together to make Allan White’s idea a reality.

The New Zealand Tree Fruit Company, based in Hastings, provided varieties of plums, citrus fruit, apricots, apples and peaches, which were planted in a 2.5 hectare test site on Ohuia’s land.

Plant & Food Research scientists monitored the fruit for two years and, says Dr Tustin, the results were exciting.

“Plums and apricots were particular stand-outs – they ripened well and were big and full of flavour.

“We were able to produce fruit at least two weeks before the same varieties were ready in any other part of New Zealand and in good time for the Christmas market.”

Rangi Manuel, Chair of the Ohuia Incorporation Trust Board, says the potential benefits from the project are two-fold.
“It could give us a real marketing advantage domestically and potentially in export markets too. But, just as importantly for us, it is also a unique opportunity to provide skills and jobs for our people.”

The most recent Census figures show that Māori make up more than 62 per cent of the population in the Wairoa district (the national average is 15 per cent) and a high percentage of them have no formal qualifications.

He says a stand-out aspect of the trial was that local people got the opportunity to work alongside experts from Plant & Food Research in the field and gain knowledge first-hand.

“It also created a real sense of purpose and togetherness in the local community.”

Ohuia Incorporation is now focused on taking the initiative to the next level. Discussions are underway with commercial interests which can partner with local Māori to provide investment and develop the infrastructure needed for a large-scale fruit growing operation.

“The project holds exciting potential for the region as a whole. As well as providing jobs, it could ultimately be a significant earner with the benefits of that flowing through the wider community,” says Rangi Manuel.

Allan White has been involved in many innovative programmes involving fruit breeding and production but he says there is a special satisfaction in seeing the Ohuia venture take root.

“It uses knowledge from the area of science in which I have worked all my life to create opportunities and wealth in my home town. That’s very rewarding.”