Date Published: 28 Jul, 2022
Manawa Honey NZ was featured in the June 2022 issue of The Farmlander magazine which was all about ‘Celebrating Aotearoa’. The focus of the feature article was on Māori-led businesses that are making a mark in agriculture with tradition and values at heart as they look to the future and beyond Aotearoa for growth. We were honoured to be featured in this article alongside Miraka, a well-known Māori-owned company that is a significant producer and exporter in the dairy industry.
The article was written off interviews with Brenda Tahi, CEO of Manawa Honey NZ. With Farmlands permission, we have collated relevant extracts from the feature article to produce this article following. We are grateful to The Farmlander and to article author, Sue Hoffart, for allowing us to tell the story of Manawa Honey NZ in this way.
Whilst Brenda Tahi heads Manawa Honey NZ, she is also a trustee for the Tūhoe Tuawhenua Trust – the founder of this unique honey business. Here, she sits with her mokopuna outside the Manawa office in Mātaatua, Ruatahuna. Brenda’s whānau live in the home right next door to the office – an added joy to her work there. The extraction shed and beekeeper base for Manawa Honey are also located in Mātaatua, home of Te Urewera hapū (sub-tribe) of the Tūhoe tribe. Photo: Scott Sinton
In 2021, Chief Beekeeper for Manawa Honey NZ, Tāwi Te Kurapa, won Grand First Prize at the 10th Black Jar International Honey Tasting Contest held in Asheville, USA, with our Rewarewa Honey. The contest focuses on the taste of honey only, and the contest judges use a strict blind tasting method that involves covering the jar with black paper. The contest in 2021 attracted entries from over 600 beekeepers and honey producers from across the world, such that the win in this contest gained Manawa’s Rewarewa Honey the mantle of Best Tasting Honey in the World.
Photo: Manawa Honey NZ Collection
People were dubious a decade ago when Tūhoe beekeepers refused to accept low honey prices and resolved to strike out on their own. Despite the eye-rolling from exporters and fellow beekeepers, the landowners established Manawa Honey to market the sweet substance that is harvested from 9,000 hectares of whenua at the heart of Te Urewera.
The punt paid off publicly last year when the honey company won a prestigious international competition and scooped a ‘world’s best-tasting honey’ title.
Manawa Honey processed 30 tonnes of honey this year and currently operates from a humble converted house in the village of Ruatahuna.
Manawa Honey aims to help people prosper while prioritising kaitiakitanga (guardianship and care) of their landholdings. Manawa Honey holds tikanga – Māori traditions and values – firmly at the heart of their business, even as they look to the future and beyond Aotearoa for better ideas, technology or new markets.
Manawa Honey chief executive Brenda Tahi says the international honey award was a thrilling, gratifying, unexpected win and one that has opened up new sales opportunities. However, she expects the company she heads to be judged on other criteria.
Toby Moon, one of the beekeepers for Manawa Honey NZ, explains to a group of visitors all about this frame of bees from a hive. Toby is one of a number of locals of Ruatāhuna that have been trained as beekeepers through the development of Manawa Honey NZ over time. Other locals of Ruatāhuna have been trained to fill roles for honey production, marketing and business support, in accord with Manawa Honey’s key objective to create not just jobs, but meaningful careers for the people of Ruatāhuna. Photo: Manawa Honey NZ Collection.
Entering the American honey contest was a strategic marketing decision, part of a plan to cleverly, sustainably use land held by Tūhoe Tuawhenua Trust. The trust is clear about its goal to create opportunities for whānau and hapu while protecting and enriching the surrounding forest. So, the honey company is designed to create better jobs and more of them, to fund better housing and education for Ruatāhuna’s 350 or so residents.
“A lot of what we do is crafted to help the development of our people”, Brenda says. “We don’t exist for the honey business. It exists for the people and the land, it’s a means to an end. Though we do love honey.”
Manawa Honey has seven employees and imminent expansion plans that will bring at least another 10 jobs to the village. One local has learned to extract honey and a young woman has stepped into a digital marketing job straight from school. A locally born academic conducts research for the company and prospective beekeepers are shoulder-tapped to learn the ropes.
“It would be easier just to advertise for a beekeeper. Instead, we find people who we think have got the right attitude, then train them from scratch.
“They graduate in the work they do for us and they have a career path. We’ve been looking for decades, trying to find ways to bring people home again or stop them having to go to town to survive.”
Brenda, who is Ngati Porou, arrived in Ruatāhuna as a young mum before embarking on a management career in Wellington. She returned to the village to raise children and has stayed on. It was Brenda who supplied the small house that is Manawa Honey’s head office, though a new office block and honey production plant is under construction.
The Ruatahuna valley, here nestled in the ancient indigenous forest of Te Urewera. Brenda Tahi explains for the Tūhoe Tuawhenua Trust: “This is the place of origin for our tribe, Tuhoe, and refuge for our people over the centuries. For us, it is the land, our Earth Mother, Papatuanuku that sustains life, of which our people are an integral part. Yet our people have been impacted by disadvantage, and our forests by pests, climate change and other factors. We’re determined to turn this around. Our 100-year vision “Kia tau te iwi me te whenua” means “People and land, thriving in harmony”. This is what drives us in all that we do”.
The trust’s land ranges over rugged country that is subject to a multitude of regulations relating to soil, land and forestry protection. Feasibility studies determined it too steep for modern farming methods and concluded it would be too difficult to do anything proactive or progressive with the land. Brenda and her trust colleagues refused to believe these findings.
“We don’t expect anyone else to understand. We’re mountain people and we know the old people used to live in those mountains and were productive. Not on the scale of farming in New Zealand now, where you’ve got to clear a whole lot of land, put up a lot of fences and have a lot of animals, or a monoculture.
“We just got named the best-tasting honey in the world. This is what the forest can produce, that taste. The complexity of the eco-systems, the mauri – life force – some of these things come through as taste. You can’t produce that if you do monocultural stuff.”
In earlier centuries, Tūhoe people did not grow large-scale crops in the way of neighbouring iwi. “But they still did cultivate and produce and they were integrated into their forest.”
Te nanao miere (widl honey gathering) in Te Urewera circa 1930s. Our old people gathered honey from wild hives of the honey bee in Te Urewera in ingenious ways. They would climb the great trees of our forest that have cavities housing the bee colony, and gather the harvest into tins, using ropes to assist. Their resourcefulness continues to inspire us.
Wild honey gathering – te nanao mīere – was incorporated into this tradition following the introduction of honey bees into New Zealand in the 1830’s. The honey was considered a taonga (treasure) until varroa mite exterminated the bee population in 2000.
It made sense to bring bees back to Te Urewera, Brenda says. Within 10 years of the winged insect’s departure, clover crops were starting to disappear from farmland and residents noticed their heritage home orchards were no longer fruiting.
“The forest has been supported by wild honey bees for nearly 200 years and all of a sudden they were gone out of the ecosystem.”
Tūhoe Tuawhenua Trust decided to take up beekeeping, reasoning it would restore this imbalance, provide people with employment and encourage increasingly urbanised residents to venture back into the bush.
Chief Beekeeper for Manawa Honey NZ, Hekenoa (Tāwi)Te Kurapa here doing what he does best. Photo: Scott Sinton.
Brenda pinpoints the genesis of Manawa Honey to the day Ruatāhuna beekeepers were offered a shockingly low price for their honey, all of it harvested from Urewera bush and imbued with the distinctive flavour of the Māhoe tree nectar. Yet payment terms were worse than those for common clover honey.
“[Aside from Mānuka] the industry had no way of valuing honey with provenance, no attachment of value for its taste. I just couldn’t sell for that price.
“So, we decided to go straight to marketing. Other exporters and brand owners laughed at us because we were so small. Most people have 50 tonnes before they establish a brand but strategically, that was the thing to do.”
Manawa Honey NZ produces a range of international award-winning forest honeys – Mānuka, Tāwari, Pua-ā-Tāne Wild Forest and Rewarewa.
Wangfenglin, Guizhou Province, China, known as ‘Ten Thousand Mountains’, is an area famed for its karst landscape formed from limestone geology where the mountains are a distinctive cone shape. The region also shows off the patterns of land use in the mountains of Guizhou. Rice paddies and fields of wheat and rape take the flat lands between mountains. Generally, homes are only built, out of the way, at the edges of these cultivated areas, at the foot of the hills. Orchards are grown on the lower slopes of the mountains, and the highlands are left for the supply of forest foods and products. Land use in Wangfenglin has lessons for the Tūhoe Tuawhenua Trust in its investigation of options for future land use in the Ruatāhuna region.
The trust is continuously seeking diversification options for its whenua and is unafraid to look outside the square and overseas. Trust representatives have visited mountain villages in Northern Thailand and Southern China to find out how other mountain-dwelling people use their land. They saw tea and coffee, rice, herbs, peppers and much more grown in forests.
Brenda says while the crop specifics may differ, the farming concepts and methods are potentially relevant to Tūhoe people. She describes indigenous tribes using cyclical crop rotation and permaculture-style planting, with small areas of forest burned off to create regeneration over decades.
Buckets stacked for filling with honey for our annual giveaway for the marae in Ruatāhuna and Maungapōhatu. We insisted that marae return their buckets from the previous year’s giveaway for refilling in 2022. Giving honey away to marae and homes in Ruatāhuna contributes to one of our goals for Manawa Honey NZ – to replace sugar in the diets of our people and replace it with the health-giving sweetness of our forest honeys.
The trust is also looking for answers closer to home, drawing on Western science as well as traditional Māori practices.
During COVID-19 lockdown, Manawa Honey delivered koha – a gift of honey – to every Ruatāhuna home. Each local marae received a bucket of honey annually. Karakia are uttered before each meeting and each time their beekeepers travel out of the district to check hives.
Work is underway to align other practices such as honey harvesting or planning meetings with the maramataka (Māori lunar calendar), to maximize chances of success.
A series of Landcare Research studies, spanning almost 20 years, have examined everything from traditional Mātauranga Māori (Māori knowledge) through to environmental DNA analysis and carbon dating on their land.
We don’t have all the answers but our old people didn’t just stay with old knowledge, they embraced new things.
“We know our forest has been modified by moa, fire, lightening, our people. So its not just about preserving forests, you’re working with a complex ecosystem. And out responsibility is not just for the land, it’s for the people. We’ll consider everything available to help us understand.”
The hamper for the Matariki Ahunga Nui initiative by Manawa Honey NZ in 2022 was fit for a feast. It was designed to foster traditional practices such as koha (gifting), hokohoko (trading) and haukai (feasting for the Matariki celebration). The hampers proved to be in hot demand with the initiative raising over $30,000 to establish the Tuawhenua Forest Restoration Fund.
As Aotearoa prepares to celebrate its first Matariki public holiday on June 24th, Manawa Honey has rebooted a traditional trading practice. It has also added a contemporary twist to the celebratory event that honours ancestors and signals future plans.
This year, the company will trade its honey for goods grown and gathered by neighbouring iwi, coastal tribes and whānau from outside the district.
“Part of the ritual and celebration is to have a feast and it should have food from under the ground, in the sea, the rivers and what grows above the ground in gardens, on fruit trees or in the forest. But our climate is too cold to grow kumara and we have no sea here.
“As the old people traded their surplus preserved kereru and kākā – all delicacies in those days and lots in Ruatāhuna – we are trading our special food for the things we need for Matariki feast hampers.”
Proceeds from the hampers will help establish a fund for the restoration and enrichment of Tuawhenua forest.
“So those who want to be part of this will be part of a network we are creating for celebrating Matariki now and into the future that connects to our land, or forests, the sea, our rivers, sustenance, fertility – actually life itself…”
Read the full featured article here: https://issuu.com/farmlands/docs/far_10528_the_farmlander_june_2022_final-web
We thank “Farmlander’ for allowing us to reprint extracts from this article. We also appreciate the opportunity to be featured in the original article. Nga mihi ra!
|Brenda Tahi draws on a range of areas in her diverse experience for her writing. She has an MBA in Strategic Management from Henley College (UK) and has had careers in public sector management and governance in New Zealand. Brenda has also published research in topics ranging from public sector management policy to Māori history and traditional knowledge. Brenda is a trustee for the Tuawhenua Trust of Ruatāhuna, and, drawing on her hobby beekeeping, she was part of founding Manawa Honey NZ, of which she is now CEO.