In the future customers strolling along the supermarket aisles in Shanghai or Beijing could be popping jars of Waiapu Gold Manuka honey into their shopping baskets if the aspirations of an innovative new project are realised. At the end of last year the Ministry for Primary Industries supported a proposal which looks at developing the Bee industry in Te Riu o Waiapu.
The pilot scheme was funded by the Ministry’s Sustainable Farming Fund for Maori Agri businesses. Ngati Porou Fisheries was another successful applicant with their proposal to create a Maori focused assessment framework for commercial land based aquaculture.
The Te Riu o Waiapu Bee Industry project is being led by Mark Iles (Te Whanau a Ruataupare and Te Whanau a Te Aotawarirangi) who has been in the Manuka honey industry for over 2 decades. During this time Mark has experienced the highs and lows of the honey business, which is dominated by the big commercial players like Comvita.
Currently the majority of Ngati Porou Bee keepers sell their Manuka honey in bulk supply to companies from outside the region. Mark says that although there is a high demand for Manuka honey in New Zealand, the major companies control what the market will pay. “Last season we got good prices for our honey, but the two seasons before then, when the weather was quite poor, we didn’t get a good payout. What happened was the companies had been sitting on a stock pile of Manuka honey, so when their resources had finally run out they had to pay us fair rates.”
Progressing beyond selling their honey by the drum and being at the whim of the market, is an aspiration Mark shares with many Ngati Porou bee-keepers. Alongside this goal is adding value to this natural resource themselves, and creating product lines for a global consumer base keen to purchase UMF (Unique Manuka Factor) infused food, medicinal and beauty products. The Te Riu o Waiapu pilot addresses the issues which impact upon the Ngati Porou Manuka honey industry ‘s ability to grow in both capacity and capability. And it also attempts to develop and implement strategies to help grow the local industry’s infrastructure.
In order to do this Mark’s main role as project manager is to co-ordinate linkages between the hau kainga, the government, the science and commercial sectors and the Bee Industry. By building contacts, relationships and networks with each area helps to build a bigger picture about what the Ngati Porou Bee Industry could be capable of.
One of the relationships Mark has established is with a group attending a trade fair in China at the end of the year. Mark hopes to provide the organisers of the roopu with samples of Ngati Porou produced Manuka honey. “My aim is to eventually have our products exported overseas with our Ngati Porou brand on them.”
Increasing the numbers of kaimahi within the Ngati Porou Bee-Keeping community is one of the strategies identified to help develop the industry, and at the beginning of July a Bee-Keeping course based at Rangitukia will begin. The course is the result of a relationship with South Island based educational provider, Agribusiness Training, and aimed at those wanting to establish their own beekeeping business or who want to get into the industry.
The ten month programme will be delivered over weekends (or during week nights if the majority of enrolled students prefer), and will follow the duration of the Bee Keeping season (July to April). Over the Winter months (while the bees are asleep) students will learn to build their own apiary and study the theory behind the art and science of bee-keeping. In Spring ( when the bees begin to wake up, and the Queen bee starts building up the numbers of the hive) the students will learn practical skills, in preparation for the ‘honey flow’ - the most important stage of the bee-keeping cycle.
On the East Coast region this begins in mid to late November, and Mark says this phase is crucial for the local industry. “ It’s make or break for us because it only lasts for 6 weeks while the Manuka flower is in bloom. Our whole years wage is dependent on this period, and all the mahi up until then revolves around building up the crop.”
With the bee-keeping training about to get under way the next phase of the three year project will be the establishment of a roopu who will provide guidance and support to the project and the wider Ngati Porou bee-keeping industry. The roopu will be made up of Ngati Porou beekeepers, Ngati Porou landowners and Ngati Porou with commercial and legal expertise.
One of their first objectives will be to investigate various types of collaborative business models, which will enable Ngati Porou bee keepers to leverage off their combined productivity and economies of scale.
The roopu will also explore opportunities for the collective of Ngati Porou bee keepers to attract investment. Mark says raising capital is one of the major impediments to the growth of the local industry. “Our biggest issue is our lack of cash. The costs involved for those wanting to enter the industry, or for existing bee keepers looking to expand their hives can be quite prohibitive. We also lack infrastructure like our own Ngati Porou extraction plant. If we had our own plant we could process and sell our Manuka honey products under our own Ngati Porou brand.”
Mark says initial support has been expressed from various national organisations with a specific interest in Maori land and agricultural development. They, along with some banking institutions would consider investing in a Ngati Porou Bee Keepers company if the right structure and business plan was set up.
Ngati Porou land owners and entrepreneurs are other potential investors Mark believes could be interested. “Some land-block owners are already receiving a pretty good rental from allowing outsiders to place hives on their whenua. But what happens is they are only getting about 10% of what the bee companies are making from the honey."
"The land blocks could invest the rental returns, or their own money into purchasing bee hives. Their people could be trained to look after the hives, and develop their own businesses. Alternatively Ngati Porou living away from homecould be encouraged to invest in bee hives managed by the company, and a profit share system could be set up.”
It has been estimated that 20,000 hectares of Maori owned land in New Zealand is covered in Manuka, and that around half of this mainly under-utilised resource is located within the Ngati Porou region. The potential the Manuka bee industry provides for Ngati Porou land owners to capitalise on their existing asset base is an exciting proposition Mark believes.
“The thing about bee hives is that they can co-exist with other multiple uses for your whenua such as farming and forestry. It doesn’t have to be the option, but it’s a bloody good option to have on your land. But instead of allowing others to reap the benefits by placing their hives on your whenua, we want to ensure there is a more effective return to the land owner.”
The Bee Keeping for Beginners Course is delivered by Agribusiness Training, and administered through Te Runanganui o Ngati Porou. For more information contact: Te Runanganui o Ngati Porou Shed 3, 50 The Esplanade Gisborne Free phone: 0800 6767 68 Or Te Runanganui o Ngati Porou 1 Barry Avenue Ruatoria 06 8649 004