Exploring farming alternatives
A Te Tairawhiti research project exploring different land-use preferences shows that Maori landowners overwhelmingly value native forest carbon farming over other land uses.
“The research explores how native forest carbon farming could be used as a land development option for Maori land on the East Coast,” former Victoria University student Dr Leo Mercer said.
“Especially when compared with other dominating land use options, namely forestry, sheep and beef farming.”
A particular emphasis was placed on the applicability and feasibility of native forest carbon farming within Aotearoa’s Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS).
“My first focus was looking at what the opportunities, barriers and risks are for Maori landowners entering the ETS scheme with native forests,” he said.
Dr Mercer said a lot of Maori land has limitations such as land alienation and policies, which have limited the ability to easily develop the land.
For example, in the context of carbon farming, to enter into the ETS is a complicated process.
It is difficult to prove whether the land fits the bracket of eligibility for applications, ie whether it is pre or post 1990.
Even if eligibility is determined, the Ministry for Primary Industries will cross-check, which is a lengthy process and involves significant costs if landowners use forestry consultants.
There is also the case where MPI carry out checks for identity verification for multiple-owned Maori blocks and other complex documentation.
“Besides these barriers there are a lot of Maori landowners who are not aware of the opportunities from the ETS, so they don’t enter even if they are eligible,” he said.
Dr Mercer said through the research he found that such measures were a “big roadblock” and could slow the process, resulting in people giving up.
For the study Dr Mercer used a transformative research approach that was rooted in the spirit of kaupapa Maori research.
“There has been a long history in academia around generally Pakeha researchers coming in from outside the region and doing research with Maori communities. Then they take that knowledge but they don’t contribute back to the community,” he said.
While there is an academic tradition to stay objective and not get involved in the research, a transformative research prioritises “choosing and contributing” to a research topic that transforms the livelihood or the outcome for research participants.
“I was able to hitch my wagon to an existing transformative process and document a part of it,” Dr Mercer said.
The second focus of the thesis was an investigation into how native forest carbon farming was viewed in comparison to other land uses.
While the Waiapu catchment was focused on as it is a highly erodible catchment in Tairawhiti, the results of the investigation would have a wider implication for the East Coast.
Dr Mercer said the research that first started in 2017 and ended in 2020 involved several interviews with different stakeholders including focus groups.
“The focus groups were largely held around Ruatoria. There was a two-day hui and wananga (workshop) around forestry so I did part of my research during the hui,” he said.
Two models were used in the study.
The first model was a steep land model. It involved land use options that would be suitable for steep, rugged terrain that included exotic forestry, sheep and beef farming, native forestry, hunting and tourism.
The second model was a flat land model that occupied “much less” Maori land that was flat and versatile. This land can be used for a variety of purposes.
“It was also important to look at other uses of land as well. That is where we did medicinal cannabis and hemp, perennial horticulture, kumara and maize cropping,” he said.
Dr Mercer said it was interesting to note that other land uses like horticulture and so forth came to be more preferred than the current land uses like sheep and beef farming.
“This paints a picture that Maori landowners are keen to move towards a more viable and dynamic land use management regime and not just the status quo that has dominated in the past few decades,” he said.
The key takeaway, Dr Mercer said, was that Maori landowners are getting “fed-up” with the existing land uses and see native carbon farming as a land use option that provides more socio-cultural (reconnection with whenua) and environmental benefits (erosion control) .
Dr Mercer also presented his research at the Recloaking the Whenua online event last week.
“I was approached by Manu Caddie who was important in the whole research process . . . and was one of the reasons I chose to do research on the East Coast,” he said.
Mr Caddie, who is a co-founder of Hikurangi Bioactives Limited Partnership, said he helped Dr Mercer meet different landowners from different parts of the rohe (region).
“I think it is good to partner with researchers who can help the region understand the issues and opportunities and risks that things like carbon farming present,” Mr Caddie said.