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Joint Venture With East Coast Iwi a First

Joint Venture With East Coast Iwi IS A First For New Zealand

The transfer of hives from Ashburton to Waipiro Bay, East Cape, heralds the start of a new era in beekeeping and a new business initiative involving Maori. It also brings to a successful conclusion 18 months of negotiations between honey producer Comvita New Zealand and East Coast iwi.

Comvita has entered into a joint arrangement with Ngati Porou iwi to foster a beekeeping industry around Waipiro Bay - to produce active manuka honey on otherwise unproductive land. The new venture has the potential to generate substantial returns for all participants.

Two hundred hives, along with their resident bees, made the two-day journey from the South Island last week aboard a refrigerated truck and trailer unit. A further 100 hives arrived yesterday.

The hives, valued at $39,000, were sourced from the South Island to avoid varroa mite problems. They have already been placed at strategic locations close to the manuka that grows so readily around Waipiro Bay.

In a unique arrangement, not dissimilar to sharecropping, landowners will receive economic returns on hives located on their property.

The hives have been supplied by Comvita - initially at no charge. In the longer term, the hapu at Waipiro Bay will purchase the hives and run them as a stand-alone operation. A trust will be established to place the project on a business footing.

Comvita will assist in the training of members of the hapu who may be interested in beekeeping. Meanwhile, the hives will be managed by professional beekeepers.

At this stage, it's not known if the manuka honey produced will have the unique manuka factor (UMF) which exists in some manuka honey produced on the East Coast. This won't be known until more data is available. The intention is to produce manuka honey with the UMF properties as well as standard manuka honey.

Comvita's operations manager, Chris Elmsly, says the Waipiro Bay hapu members are excited because they can see a successful beekeeping industry will translate into jobs and income.

"One person can manage 400 to 500 hives. That number of hives could realise $150,000 over a six-month period," says Elmsly. "Even allowing for costs of $50,000 you can see there's a good living to be made."

Comvita's CEO, Graeme Boyd, says he personally is thrilled by the development at Waipiro Bay.

"This is a first for us, a first for the East Coast people and a first for New Zealand," he enthuses. "We are confident we have established a model that can be duplicated elsewhere."

Boyd acknowledges the support of iwi.

"Without the likes of kaumatua Bob Maru and George Henare, and other members of the Kiekie Marae, this project would never have got off the ground. Community Employment Group advisor Peter Brown also provided valuable assistance."

Bob Maru, who is also a co-ordinator with the Tairawhiti Federation of Maori Incorporations, describes the new venture as a winner for the locals.

"The land is unsuited to any other crop," says Maru. "If the venture succeeds, the iwi could end up with half a dozen or so local people trained as beekeepers and could own as many as 400 hives."

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