Combining traditional values and modern science

Blending traditional values and knowledge with modern science and innovation underpins the success achieved by Nelson-based Wakatu Incorporation.

Formed in 1977, Wakatu holds land in trust for around 3,000 Māori owners. It has diversified its assets over the past 35 years to include property and businesses focused on seafood, wine, fruit and vegetables. The food and beverage operation, which makes up 30 per cent of Wakatu’s assets, goes under the name Kono which is the word for a basket woven out of harakeke and used by Māori to serve food.

Wakatu’s business is based on traditional Māori values and philosophies. These include kaitiakitanga or custodianship of assets, pono or integrity, rangatiratanga or being in charge of their own destiny, manaakitanga or care, auahatanga or innovation and whanaungatanga which recognises the important of relationships.

Wakatu has 224 hectares of apples, kiwifruit, pears and hops planted on land that was reserved for Māori when European settlement began in the 1840s. That history gives the land “immense significance” for its owners says Rōpata Taylor, Wakatu’s General Manager Manaaki Sector.

Joint ventures are one of the mechanisms favoured by Wakatu for developing its horticultural business. Wakatu also partners to access innovation. It is growing new hop cultivars developed by Plant & Food Research including some which have unique, aromatic flavours tailored to the needs of the craft beer brewing industry.

And Wakatu has partnered with ENZA to grow 40 hectares of ENVY™ apples, a new red, sweet variety which naturally remains white when cut, which was developed by Plant & Food Research.

Kono Horticulture CEO Martyn King says there are plenty of synergies between traditional and modern approaches, citing the example of Integrated Fruit Production (IFP) for pipfruit, a system where chemical inputs are reduced in favour of natural controls and crops are monitored to ensure spraying only takes place when necessary.

“We see IFP as very similar to customary practises – it’s a holistic and environmentally sensitive approach right through the chain from planting to postharvest handling.”

Aspects of its relationship with apple growing partner ENZA also illustrate how a business run on traditional Māori principles can successfully interact with other commercial entities.

Kono Horticulture’s ENVY™ plantings were blessed at an official ceremony by an orchard kaumatua who planted a sacred mauri (stone) under one of the trees as part of ensuring future prosperity of the orchard. ENZA took part in the event which also included a history of the tribes of the region and lineages tied to the orchard.

The challenge for a business like Wakatu, says Rōpata, is to do old things in new ways.

“We are continuing a legacy but living in today’s world without undermining our identity and values. We are unashamedly a Māori business but we always seek out the best advice available wherever it is located.”

Around a quarter of staff working for Kono Horticulture are Māori, a significant percentage given the relatively low number of Māori living in the Nelson region (around 5 per cent of the population).

“We are a family business but providing jobs for our owners isn’t what drives our approach to industries we operate in,” says Rōpata. “It’s more about the macro benefits we can provide to our community while also looking after the land.”

To find out more, visit:

www.wakatu.org.nz and www.wakatu.org.nz/kono

Or contact: Martyn King, Tel 03 528 4192, martyn.king@kono.co.nz