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Commercialising Maori kumara

Commercialising Maori kumara

The unique white-skinned and white-fleshed early Maori kumara are to be studied for their potential as a gourmet food.

Demand for foods derived from "unaltered" or "pure" plant material that is produced using culturally and environmentally sensitive techniques has prompted research on nine lines of early Maori kumara. These include three lines with the unique white skin and white flesh which were among those brought back from Japan to New Zealand in 1988.

The Pu Hao Rangi Trust, guardians of the early kumara, have joined with the Tahuri Whenua Inc. (the National Maori Vegetable Growers' Collective), in a joint venture to explore the economic potential of New Zealand's early kumara. Technology New Zealand will fund the two-year research project.

Chairperson of Pu Hao Rangi, Dell Wihongi, said, "We are delighted to be working with the Tahuri Whenua. We have the heritage kumara and Tahuri Whenua represents the Maori Vegetable Growers Collective which is successfully producing crops for select markets. Just as our fore-bearers found ways to grow this root crop as a food source, we seek to find the current potential of these kumara."

Chairman of Tahuri Whenua, Nick Roskruge said, "Currently, we are involved in growing and dispersing early varieties of taewa (potato), kaanga (corn), hue and kamokamo. There is an increasing demand for wholesome, natural, regional foods, particularly from top-end diners and the slow food movement. Our early kumara would fit this and, if we can grow enough of it, I think there is potential for export."

The nine early Maori kumara lines (four pre-European and five post-European) were returned from Japan for safe-keeping to the Pu Hao Rangi Trust. On their return, Crop & Food Research assisted the Trust by removing viruses and Pam Fletcher has maintained the virus-free lines in tissue culture at Lincoln.

Crop & Food Research agronomists are now working to understand the best growing conditions for the cultivars. Yields and quality during storage will be two key factors examined in the trials.

Crop & Food Research's Maori Research Leader, Dr Meto Leach said, "Unlike common kumara grown today, little is known about these early cultivars. The research is needed to see how they will survive transplanting and to identify their susceptibility to climate and disease."

The aim is to identify an early kumara line suitable for the market and to establish a successful production system. Tahuri Whenua and Pu Hao Rangi will work together to get production underway and develop markets.

The research should be complete by July 2007 and then the knowledge gained will be given to growers who will work to build up production.


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