Maori Innovation - Fostering Sustainable AgTech Practices

There has been an enormous shift toward the term "regenerative agriculture" over the past few years, as we start to feel the effects of decades of unsustainable farming practices. This has impacted the current quality of water, soil, and animal health alongside the future of te Papatūānuku (or mother earth).

Regenerative agriculture is described as "more than a system of farming: it is a mindset that questions the status quo" in this white paper by Our Land and Water. 
Currently, our government is calling for proposals to investigate regenerative farming practices, international discussions are being centred around sustainability and feeding 10 billion, and foreign investment in New Zealand agriculture, forestry, and fishing has risen to $9.4 billion since 2014 as the world looks for solutions to its most prominent problems in our primary sector.
However, as the pressure continues for significant changes to be made in the industry, it falls onto tired shoulders. Our farmers face increasing taxes, financial losses, and the consequences of unforgiving climate change—all forcing a severe revaluation of how we get things done in a feasible way.
Now more than ever, an opportunity is being presented to take a leaf out of the book from Maori innovators in our communities. Who, for decades, have taken a holistic approach to farming and have fostered sustainable agritech practices to help us change how we do things.

Sprout Board Advisors Arama Kukutai - Finistere Ventures & Mark Piper - Fonterra with Arihia Bennett (CEO) and Julian Wilson from Te Runanga o Ngai Tahu.

Sprout Board Advisors Arama Kukutai - Finistere Ventures & Mark Piper - Fonterra with Arihia Bennett (CEO) and Julian Wilson from Te Runanga o Ngai Tahu.

Holistic approaches including forward-thinking, using and protecting native species, looking to the land for answers, and centring practices around values first are prevalent in Iwi, Hapu, and smaller independent Maori-owned and run businesses and innovation. Examples of this including in:
  • Whakatu
    • They are maintaining a 500-year plan in which their purpose, goals, and objectives contribute to all decision making
  • Jobloads 
    • They are taking a sustainable and value centred approach to employment. Incorporating digital technology into bettering the connections people have with the work they do in the horticulture sector
  • Kaitahi as one 
    • They are utilising traditional wisdom and modern innovation to create high-value products for the globe.
These examples demonstrate that sustainability and "regenerative farming" is more than just systems and requires a mindset, being centred around values, such as Tikanga (doing what is right, culturally, and contextually) and Mana (moral authority). They are key examples of how sustainability is achieved by Maori business and innovation both at a macro and micro level through thinking about the broader impact from multiple aspects.
So, how do we take this idea of sustainability and regenerative agriculture being achieved through mindset and apply it to our primary sector on a larger scale, and what does that look like? 
MPI, the Primary Sector Council, and Agritech New Zealand have begun answering these questions through implementing the "Fit for a Better World" strategy and the Industry Transformation Plan (ITP).
In the 2019 'Fit for a Better World' strategy developed by MPI and the Primary Sector Council, it recognised the importance of Te Taiao (care for our natural world), the strategy aimed at finding the best practices we can use across our New Zealand Food and Fibre sector. Looking to achieve this by bringing together actions, investment, and resources across themes: boosting productivity, sustainability, and inclusiveness. 
Similarly, the Industry Transformation Plan (ITP) released by Agritech New Zealand earlier this year identified Māori as a critical part of the overall agritech ecosystem. Playing a core role across many aspects of the Food and Fibre sector and related activity. The ITP stated that “for decades Maori have been significant contributors as sustainable producers, consumers, and funders and adopters of technology.” The ITP identifying implementation techniques could look like programs (such as the Te Hono Program) but ultimately recognised further collaboration with Maori to achieve this.
While these are starting points for New Zealand, we can continue to learn from the Maori innovation in our communities who are fostering sustainable agritech practices. 

Let us know what sustainability looks like to you in your agritech practices below.