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Carbon project aims to help Maori landowners

Strengthening climate resilience through native forest and carbon farming is the aim of a new project.

The Waro (Carbon) Project partners with Maori landowners interested in new native forest or allowing native bush to regenerate on their land.

Over the last three years researchers at Motu Economic and Public Policy Research have worked with Hikurangi Enterprises to scope Maori landowner interest in native forest regeneration and carbon farming.

“The introduction of the One Billion Trees programme, the manuka honey industry taking off, and the Paris Agreement on Climate Change causing carbon prices to increase, earning an income from planting native trees or letting existing pasture regenerate into native bush is getting easier and more lucrative,” executive director of Motu John McDermott said.

“It’s not all about pine.

“The Waro Project focuses mainly on climate change mitigation, but carbon farming can also play a role in increasing biodiversity, and securing erosion-prone land,” Mr McDermott said.

Pia Pohatu is a researcher from Hikurangi Enterprises working on the project.

“Establishing native forests through new planting or regeneration resonates well with Maori landowners as they seek to balance multi-dimensional considerations they give effect to as kaitieki (guardian),” Ms Pohatu said.

“Our research is showing that climate change and the Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) are complex systems to understand.

“The notion and potential of earning an income for carbon farming is not a key driver in their land-use diversification decisions.

“At best, this is currently perceived as a bonus,” Ms Pohatu said.

Carbon farming includes any land use where landowners receive economic benefits from carbon sequestration.

Sequestration involves using trees, which ‘breathe in’ carbon dioxide (CO2), to capture and store CO2, lessening the potent greenhouse gas in the atmosphere.

“Climate change is more likely to be associated in Te Tairawhiti with the impact of severe weather events, flooding and erosion as opposed to trying to mitigate the pollution from industry,” she said.

“Maori landowners consider land-cover (with a preference for planting native species) a strategic approach towards strengthening climate resilience.

“Land-cover also includes co-benefits such as improved water quality and restoring rongoa (medicine) and other customary resources.

“Whatever the needs or aspirations of landowners, there is scope for carbon farming from native forest to compliment and improve their current land use.

“Not to mention that it will also help achieve any aspirations for restoration and resilience in the future.

“As long as ETS-eligibility requirements are met and maintained, then carbon farming can be an additional income stream for landowners,” Ms Pohatu said.

Nuhiti Q, a Maori incorporation north of Tolaga Bay, is one of the case studies used by The Waro Project in investigating carbon farming on Maori land.

“Nuhiti is a 2000ha Maori Land Trust with 3500 breeding ewes and 220 breeding cattle and now carbon farming with permanent native and eucalyptus on 600ha,” chairwoman of Nuhiti Q Nikki Searancke said.

“Before the ETS and carbon farming we were subjected to the vagaries of the lamb and beef market.

“Now we have an annual income from the ETS NZU’s (New Zealand Unit) of $100,000 plus,” she said.

Carbon farming from native forest can also compliment sustainable harvest or permanent forest options.

Liability and risk can be managed through a range of emitter contract arrangements including a carbon lease option. As part of the project, a website has been created to give advice for owners of Maori land thinking about becoming carbon farmers.

The Waro Project team is made up of East Coast landowners, Motu Economic and Public Policy Research Trust, Hikurangi Enterprises, and postgraduate students from Victoria University of Wellington. It ends in June 2020.

CARBON CASE STUDY: Nuhiti Q, a Maori incorporation north of Tolaga Bay, is one of the case studies used by The Waro Project in investigating native forest carbon farming on Maori land. Picture supplied