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Accessing traditional knowledge key to exports

Friday, September 26, 2008
Accessing traditional knowledge key to future exports

The future export potential of natural Mäori vegetables like taewa, the Mäori potato, and kamokamo (gourd fruit), coupled with the need to capture traditional knowledge, are two issues to be discussed at a meeting in Bulls tomorrow.

About 50 members of the Tahuri Whenua Society, the national collective of Mäori vegetable growers, will attend the society’s annual meeting at Parewahawaha Marae.

Society chairman Nick Roskruge, a senior lecturer at the University's Institute of Natural Resources, says the collective has over 250 members from Kaitaia to Invercargill, including growers, individuals, schools, kaumätua, and köhanga reo.

Dr Roskruge expects to be re-elected as chair and says succession is an issue in general in the horticulture industry and even more of an issue for Mäori. “We need to have succession plans to ensure there will be someone to carry the knowledge about traditional practices. In the old days, children who showed an aptitude and interest in horticulture were fostered into it. These days Mäori are mostly urban and not doing anything directly on the land.”

Dr Roskruge is involved in several other research, government and non-government groups concerned with vegetable production, Mäori land utility and soil systems. In 1999 a project was initiated at Massey where varieties of taewa – also known as riwai, peruperu, mahetau or parareka – were grown as a seed bank. Prior to that they were grown only in a backyard environment.

“Taewa are more available today than they were in the past. They are now being grown commercially, with seed available from some plant shops and growers. The intention of the collective is to ensure Mäori ownership, management and control of this resource and others aligned to food production.”

He says getting horticultural products such as taewa export-ready will take intensive investment of manpower and finance. “In addition there has to be continuity in production, quality and consistency. The marketing opportunity to promote taewa is huge. Their characteristics are the same as they were 200 years ago. Unlike other potatoes, they have not been re-worked or bred for different uses.

“People are also more willing to try new types of foods now and chefs in particular are beginning to use taewa in their dishes for their distinctive flavour, texture and visual appeal. Some of the feedback we have heard is that eating them is like a new food experience.”

The last meetings of the society were a regional hui in Blenheim and Motueka, which showcased those regions' horticulture opportunities for Mäori. The next hui will be held in Ruatoki in February.


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