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Te Urewera honey to the world

HONEY produced in the hills of Te Urewera could soon be exported around the world, creating sustainable jobs in the isolated region well into the 22nd century.

Over the past six years, helped by Business Mentors New Zealand, Ruatahuna-based Manawa Honey has grown from having just 50 hives to 900 hives across 9000 hectares of bush, and has a 100-year plan for sustainable forest management and job creation.

A project of the Tuawhenua Trust, it aims to provide opportunities for the land and the people of Ruatahuna, 18km northwest of Lake Waikaremoana on the unsealed section of SH38.

Tuawhenua Trust chief executive Brenda Tahi said last year the bees produced almost 20 tonnes of honey. The plan was to have 4000 hives producing up to 200 tonnes of honey per year.

The project also aimed to enhance the native bush while creating income and career opportunities for the trust and the people of the Ruatahuna area, and progress to date was an indication that it had worked.

“We are dedicated to restoring the land, forests and rivers for future generations but we are also dedicated to creating opportunities for the people of Ruatahuna,” Ms Tahi said.

“We started in 2011 with 50 hives, in 2016 we grew to 900 and we are aiming for 4000. Going forward we are looking to maintain our 50 percent year-on-year growth in honey production.”

Expanded beekeeping operationsThe trust hopes to grow the Manawa Honey business over time by expanding its beekeeping operation and domestic markets, and building on its small start in export markets.

“Through this growth we can create more jobs and develop careers for the people of Ruatahuna as part of our aspiration to develop a strong economic base for our region,” Ms Tahi said.

After she approached Business Mentors NZ, the not-for-profit organisation matched her with volunteer business mentor Wallace Roome.

“Marketing, distribution and beekeeping were all new territory for me. When I started working with my business mentor, Wallace, I was able to use his advice to ensure I was on the right track.”

The working relationship between herself and mentor was mutually rewarding for both parties, she said.

“For us both we were really pleased to firstly get some order into the business, to bring management back from just reactive issues. Then we were able to change the focus of the mentoring to a more strategic consideration of the business.”

Mr Roome agreed. He is a trained chartered accountant, with an extensive background in the financial control and management of businesses.

“I was really pleased to see the change in management style from somewhat reactive to more structured as control systems were developed, and then to a more strategic consideration of the business.

“My role started as a reviewer of processes and people and then became more of a sounding board for strategic decision-making. It was to help Brenda gather and interpret information about her business, to enable her to make decisions and gain clarity on its strategy.

“It was Brenda getting stuck in and doing it all, I was just there to point her in the right direction and act as a sounding board.”

Now with plans to grow exporting opportunities, it was a good thing Manawa Honey’s production was growing, he said.

However, for Brenda it is all about what the honey brings back to the community.

“We love honey, but our passion lies with building a future for our people.”

THE HILLS ARE ALIVE: Manawa Honey beekeper Nick Mitai tends to one of 900 hives at Ruatahuna. Picture by Peter James Quinn
JOBS FOR KEEPS: Manawa Honey beekeepers preparing hives as the business eyes exporting honey abroad. Picture supplied