Education Policy | Post Primary | Preschool | Primary | Tertiary | Search


The benefits of a revived flax industry

All must share in benefits of revived flax industry says researcher

A revived harakeke or native flax industry must ensure that both landowners and harvesters have a share in its value-added products, says Lincoln University Kellogg Rural Leadership Scholar Michelle Riley of Golden Bay.

In a research report presented to the 20th Kellogg Course at Lincoln University, Michelle said that primary industries that did not maintain links from the beginning of a process to the marketed end-product, thus reducing the middleman’s cut, were struggling in today’s economic climate.

Historically harakeke was one of the most economically important native plant resources in New Zealand with the fibre being extracted and put to many uses first by Maori and then by later immigrants.

Today, modern research is paving the way for a revival of the industry using new technology to make innovative products and create economic wealth with sustainable, environmentally sound practice.

The New Zealand industry flourished in the mid to late 19th century and the largest processing mill was near the Makerua Swamp at Shannon from where the “Nui” brand was developed. Over the 26 years of its operation it exported $1 million worth of fibre. A disease decimated the source in the early 1930s and the mill closed in 1933. From the 1940s exports dwindled on. Dunedin-based Donaghys was one of the last New Zealand manufacturing companies to produce flax-made twine and rope.

Products made at Makerua included upholstery padding, underfelts, wool packs, baling twine and fibrous plaster. The development of synthetic and cheaper sisal products relegated these products to the past and currently nothing is made from the fibre on a commercial scale.

Michelle’s research report identifies several strands of interest in a revived harakeke industry -

Artistic and creative - using the flax for weaving and building on traditional techniques to develop contemporary artworks. Pharmaceuticals - the medicinal properties of harakeke were well known to early Maori and have potential for extraction and commercial use today. Current pharmaceutical interest is in its alkaloid and organic acid properties. Cosmetics - Living Nature of Kerikeri is adding harakeke extract to several skincare products. Other manufacturers are making soaps and lotions containing harakeke extracts. Ecological use - investigations are under way looking at harakeke as an efficient effluent soak. Compared to willow and poplar, commonly used plants for this purpose, harakeke is showing potential with the added benefit that all parts of the plant are useful. In addition harakeke is valuable in creating corridors of food and shelter for bird and insect life to travel within areas, thus enhancing biodiversity. Industrial - investigative work is underway to use the fibre in fibreglass, building panels, furniture, boat building and vehicle components. Fibre cell extraction has been identified as having potential in the biochemistry industry.

Ecological, social and cultural values are all important in shaping the future of the revived industry, says Michelle.

“I believe, however, that for there to be continued raw material available within a strongly structured industry, it is essential that landowners and harvesters both have a share in the value-added products.

“Without retention of benefits right through the value chain, the landowning producer will be reduced to simply peasant status with ownership of the industry as a whole lost.

“I also believe that for rural communities and iwi to maintain a wealth base, the industry must be established from the bottom up. This is the next step and provides a new challenge.”

Michelle is confident there is an exciting, thriving, long-term future for harakeke in its place of origin, New Zealand. She is heartened that the Government’s Sustainable Farming Fund has granted money for a three-year research study into prospects for a revived industry. That study, being carried out by the New Zealand Flax Farmers Group, is now in its second year and one outcome of the project will be the development of a network of interested landowners and iwi groups.

Michelle’s interest in harakeke first stirred when she trained as a school teacher in the 1980s and her tutors included Ngai Tahu weaver the late Cath Brown. Today Michelle and her husband Brent have a property at Patarau in north west Golden Bay, an area rich in flax industry history and she is interested in growing harakeke on the property’s estuarine and wetland margins.

© Scoop Media

Culture Headlines | Health Headlines | Education Headlines


Howard Davis: Emerald Fennell's Promising Young Woman'

The Guardian needed not one, but three reviews to do justice to Fennell's unsettling approach, which indicates exactly how ambiguous and controversial its message really is. More>>

Howard Davis: Jill Trevelyan's Rita Angus

Although Angus has become one of Aotearoa’s best-loved painters, the story of her life remained little known and poorly understood before Jill Trevelyan's acclaimed and revelatory biography, which won the Non Fiction Award at the Montana New Zealand Book Awards in 2009, and has now been republished by Te Papa press. More>>

Howard Davis: The Back of the Painting

Painting conservators are the forensic pathologists of the art world. While they cannot bring their subjects back to life, they do provide fascinating insights into the precise circumstances of a painting's creation, its material authenticity, and constructive methodology. More>>

Howard Davis: Black Panthers on the Prowl

A passionate and gripping political drama from Shaka King, this is an informative and instructive tale of human frailty that centers around the charismatic Chicago Black Panther leader Fred Hampton, who was murdered at the age of twenty-one during a police raid. More>>

Howard Davis: Controlling the High Ground

Stephen Johnson's raw and angry film not only poses important questions with scrupulous authenticity, but also provides a timely reminder of the genocidal consequences of casual bigotry and xenophobia. More>>

Howard Davis: Dryzabone - Robert Conolly's The Dry

After the terrible devastation caused by last year’s bushfires, which prompted hundreds of Australians to shelter in the ocean to escape incineration and destroyed uncountable amounts of wildlife, The Dry has been released during a totally different kind of dry spell. More>>

Howard Davis: Hit the Road, Jack - Chloé Zhao's Nomadland

Nomadland is perhaps the ultimately 'road' movie as it follows a group of dispossessed and disenfranchised vagabonds who find a form of communal refuge in camp sites and trailer parks after the economic contraction of 2008. More>>



  • Wellington
  • Christchurch
  • Auckland