Seeing the gold in kiwifruit

Published: Wednesday, 18 November 2020 | Rāapa, 18 Whiringa ā-rangi, 2020

Under the gaze of their ancestral mountain Mauao at Matapihi Peninsula, Tauranga Moana you will come upon rows and rows of kiwifruit cultivated by local hapū and Māori Land Trust, Ngāi Tukairangi Trust. The Trust is made up of several separately owned Māori land blocks.

Fruit on the vines at Ngāi Tukairangi Trust orchard.

The trust paved the way for Māori horticulturalists in Aotearoa by establishing the first kiwifruit nursery in 1981 and planting the first kiwifruit vines in 1982 - the beginning of an exciting venture for Ngāi Tukairangi.

From the first seedlings planted nearly 40 years ago to a thriving kiwifruit business, Ngāi Tukairangi is now one of the largest producers of kiwifruit in the country owning three orchards in Te Puke, Tauranga and Heretaunga.

Upholding the vision of their forebears

Ratahi Cross, chair of Ngāi Tukairangi Trust has been working to uphold the vision of those who came before him to ensure that their land is kept within the hapū and developed to meet the needs of their people.

“I want to achieve the vision of my grand-uncle and other leaders of the time to protect our hapū and teach our whānau to be self-sufficient and not reliant on anyone else,” he says.

Ngāi Tukairangi Trust was established in the late 1970s, under the Māori Affairs Act 1953, to support whānau to remain living and working on their whenua. Local Māori landowners joined forces to make the most of the region’s fertile soil and warm climate to bring their land back into high productivity.

The trust has had major success with their orchards and are now looking at further international opportunities to help boost their business.

Working through the hard times

Success has not come without challenge. The trust, along with other orchards throughout the country came up against many challenges, from containing crop disease, to staff recruitment and retention issues. The trust needed to act quickly to safeguard the future of their business and the wellbeing of their hapū.

In the early 1990s the trust’s orchards were struck by a disease called Pseudomonas Syringe PV Actinidiae, commonly known as PSA, that infected their kiwifruit vines causing the plants to deteriorate and resulted in Ngāi Tukairangi restarting their entire planting process.

Due to the seasonal nature of the work, Ngāi Tukairangi has grappled with recruiting and retaining staff over the years prompting the trust to consider innovative ways to resolve these employment issues.

The new accommodation block (in the background) was opened by the former Māori Development Minister, Nanaia Mahuta in October 2020. It was a proud moment for Ngāi Tukairangi Trust and it’s Chairman Ratahi Cross (to the right of Minister Mahuta).

Ngāi Tukairangi was successful in applying for a Recognised Seasonal Employer license (RSE) allowing them to recruit workers from overseas for seasonal work. An RSE license means that they can now forge strong relationships with and provide seasonal employment opportunities for overseas communities – the first Māori business to do so.

As a result, Ngāi Tukairangi has recently completed the development of a papakāinga to accommodate overseas workers, house employees and reduce costs for those who currently travel. Not only is it for overseas employees, it is there for all staff who need somewhere to rest after long, demanding shifts.

“Our employees will be welcomed on to the papakāinga, welcomed into our hapū and will be part of the wider community. That doesn’t happen at other orchards,” Ratahi says. 


Fostering self-determination

Ratahi says, “I want our hapū to get to a point where they are able to build their own homes, own their own health care, own their own schools and decide what topics will be taught in school.”

As part of teaching whānau to become self-sufficient and growing capability within the hapū, Ngāi Tukairangi along with Huka Pac whānau, has developed a cadetship programme where they recruit between 5–12 cadets per year. This opportunity supports those within the programme to learn the skills and knowledge of running an orchard and ultimately leading towards obtaining a long-term job.

The major benefit Ratahi sees for Ngāi Tukairangi Trust shareholders is the support the trust can provide through education grants, and marae and community grants, job opportunities and receiving of dividends.

“If we can make positive changes to the environment our whānau live in, then we can change anything.”

Chair of Ngāi Tukurangi Trust Ratahi Cross (right) with a Te Puni Kōkiri staff member admiring the bountiful crop of export-grade kiwifruit.

Chair of Ngāi Tukurangi Trust Ratahi Cross (right) with a Te Puni Kōkiri staff member admiring the bountiful crop of export-grade kiwifruit.