Māori making own path in the red meat value chain

Craig Ellison, updated on Tuhono Whenua, the Māori Red Meat Coalition
Craig Ellison, updated on Tūhono Whenua, the Red Meat Coalition.

Māori sheep and beef producers are quietly some way along making their own path through the red meat sector maze.

Speaking at the recent Red Meat Sector Conference, Craig Ellison, project director of Tūhono Whenua: Red Meat Coalition Limited, gave delegates an interesting update on work to date for the project, which is focusing on getting better sustainable returns for Māori producers and reducing the volatility of those returns.

A range of values are wrapped around the Tūhono Whenua initiative, he explained.

“These include acting as one farm and one family business, taking pride in everything we do, making technology our friend, developing the capability and capacity of the our people to create prosperity, toitu te whenua (using land productively to sustain our people) and kaitiakitanga (guardianship, nuturing our place, our people, our future).”

Creating safe, healthy food, animal welfare and a sustainable environment are also paramount, along with building enduring relationships with customers and consumers.

He explained that  following initial discussions in 2012, the Red Meat Coalition was incorporated the following year as a single purpose vehicle for collaboration amongst Māori in the red meat sector – alongside a number of other Māori agribusiness projects including ones for manuka, horticulture and governance.

Its initial scope took a ‘One Farm’ approach, taking a stock-take of what exists, assess what was working well and how it might all more efficiently operate for everyone’s benefit.

The Coalition’s dream is aiming high. The overview of the project’s work stream is to build a billion dollar revenue international business, with Māori leading the business, to develop a marketing strategy, build an integrated value chain, develop a communication plan that shares information openly and transparently and establish a clear connection between the producer and the consumer.

Early information gathering work, seminars (huis) have been held around the country and research with other wider sector stakeholders has been done.

In 2014, as progress had been made in conjunction with the Federation of Māori Authorities (FoMA), AgResearch, B+LNZ Ltd on the One Farm productivity stream, the Coalition moved on to evaluate current supplier relationships and performance, to move on down the value chain and also on precision agriculture.

“Results are encouraging,” commented Ellison. “It’s early days but there is appetite for change.”

There has been good engagement with processors and a move to solidify relationships, he reported. The group is also keeping an eye on other sector initiatives, such as those of Meat Industry Excellence and Federated Farmers and is also considering the merits and operational detail of single-desk selling. The question is whether to stay with the status quo, or move to a fully integrated and marketing operation.

“If we do nothing, nothing will change, or others’ actions will be imposed on Māori,” said Ellison.

Work has discovered that Māori red meat entities are at different stages of development – ranging from farm gate supply only to fully integrated – and, predicated on some of the business carrying on as usual, assessment may take a number of years yet. “But, the professed desire is to move down the chain, accept more risk and expect more reward.”

So, while there has been movement on the project.  “There are still 1,000 cups of tea to go.”

Two projects initiated

Two projects have been initiated as part of the work in response to members’ desire to understand the value chain and will be taking place over the coming year.

The first is to research the Asian market. Using resources offered by the Poutama Trust and New Zealand Trade & Enterprise (NZTE) in Hong Kong and Taiwan, the work will be looking at user preferences in the two markets – differentiated by age and preferred purchase point.

“This is not new – but the ‘how’ in this case is just as important as the ‘what’,” said Ellison.

The second is to outline the mechanics involved in physically selling product from the farm gate through to the marketplace. A target has been set of 20,000 lambs and talks have been held with potential buyers in North and South-East Asia with a focus on building a useful and long-term relationship, looking to build a return premium for long-term supply, possibly using a toll-processor.

“Again the ‘how’ is more important than the sale,” said Ellison.

Work has also started on a collaborative precision agriculture project on the East Coast properties of Potikirua ki Whangakoena (PkW), involving PkW, NIWA, Callaghan Innovation and B+LNZ Ltd.

“Māori agribusinesses are in the beef and lamb game for the long haul – an inter-generational strategy is essential and may vary from that of most pakeha businesses,” commented Ellison.

“Current performances have been deemed unsatisfactory – and change is in the mood. Everyone here has a part in defining the future for an important segment of the New Zealand pastoral economy.”

He urged the red meat sector not to “make the Miraka mistake” where Māori dissatisfaction with the dairy industry structure at the time led to the building of a new dairy processing plant and new Māori-owned company.

“It’s a case of how you, as industry leaders, work on that relationship and do something really smart,” he told delegates.

Ministry of Primary Industries has developed an excellent video explaining the help it can offer Māori agribusiness.Take a look below.


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