30 Connecting Indigenous Food Systems to markets: the Maori Experience in New Zealand

Adding value to indigenous food production systems while respecting preferences and cultural identity: connecting local indigenous food producers to markets 

Organizers: New Zealand, FAO


All over the world, indigenous peoples are looking for ways to preserve their culture, heritage and production systems while also engaging into markets and searching for ways to capture value. Indigenous peoples’ food systems were often community based with low monetization and a reliance on reciprocity, effectively managing natural resources and combining techniques and crops. Today, many indigenous peoples are interested in accessing markets (whether local, national or international) to improve community well-being and foster economic development. Development should be economically, socially, environmentally and culturally sustainable - striking the right balance between economic returns and supporting indigenous culture and traditions. The objective of this side event is to share experiences of how indigenous peoples can utilise their resources, knowledge and food production methods to participate in value chains in a manner that embraces their traditions and culture. The event will focus on how Maori agri-business is developing and contributing to the strengthening of communities and rural development in New Zealand, presenting the first-hand experience of Te Rarawa iwi (tribe). This will be followed by an open discussion with indigenous leaders, Maori agri-business and FAO experts on positive experiences in linking indigenous food systems to markets

Key speakers


  • Her Excellency Amira Gornass (CFS Chair)
  • Clemens Breisinger (IFPRI)
  • Carlo Cafiero (FAO)
  • Gero Carletto (World Bank)
  • General Abou Bakr El-Guindy (CAPMAS)

Main themes/issues discussed

  • Indigenous peoples are interested in accessing markets with their produce while maintaining their spirituality, protecting their environment, enriching their social and cultural life and  obtaining an economic profit (the four pous or pillars)
  • Strong cultural values lie at the heart of indigenous food systems for Maori people. For Maori, there are four measures of success: economic, social, cultural and environmental, all equally important.
  • For the Maori people, success is not individual, it is collective. Relationships should be mutually beneficial, including market relationships and in the context of global trade.
  • There are opportunities for indigenous peoples to access markets through geographical indications, certification and branding, by telling the story behind the product. FAO has been supporting some of these initiatives in different parts of the world with different indigenous peoples. 
  • Critical mass calls for support, the process of building critical mass is based on trust building “drinking the 1000 cups of tea” to bring different tribes and indigenous peoples together and commercialize produce together.
  • Once scale has been reached, it is easier to access credit and governmental support. 
  • The benefits for the government and the country as a whole of including indigenous peoples’ priorities into the national policies, facilitating development and including indigenous representatives in governmental discussions, including internationally.Government delegations benefit when they include indigenous delegates. They bring different perspectives to the negotiation table that are equally important.

Summary of key points

Indigenous peoples should not only be mere beneficiaries, but also decide their own destiny and development; in other words, we should work with indigenous peoples, nor just for them. In this regard, Free, Prior and Informed Consent is fundamental before any project or program takes place in their territory.

Indigenous knowledge:

  • Need to recognize and acknowledge indigenous food systems, which are characterized by solidarity, complementarity and relationship with Mother Earth.
  • Indigenous food systems are fundamental to combat climate change, because they are adapted to local conditions and respect the environment, ensuring the availability of future resources.
  • We can learn much from indigenous food systems, in particular in relation to sustainability.

Indigenous peoples have traditional knowledge from millennia, but in many countries around the world, indigenous peoples’ well-being is not a priority. If indigenous peoples are successful, the country is successful.

One challenge ahead of us is the need to fight against destruction of genetic variety.

Building strong relationships and trust between the government and the Maori people was an important step towards collective action in New Zealand. This requires a lot of time (the so-called “1000 cups of tea”) but time is essential in building relationships, and it has to be included in the equation.

While certification and branding provide opportunities for indigenous peoples to differentiate their products in the market, there is a need to ensure that traditions and cultures are not branded disrespectfully. As Carl Hutchby said: “Our branding is unique and very traditional to us”.

While there is an anthropological line of thought saying that indigenous peoples should not be included in the global market because this could “contaminate” their traditional systems, it has to be acknowledged that trade is not a threat by itself, and many indigenous peoples have been trading for centuries. If the interests of the community are put above those of individuals, trade can be an opportunity for empowerment.

Many economic theories are based on optimizing individual benefit, while indigenous food systems show that there can be community gains from collaborations based on mutual respect. 


  • It is important to get youth to participate in the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues in New York, through the youth caucus.
  • There is a need to make farming “exciting” for youth.  The strong values base of indigenous food systems, as highlighted by the Maori agri-business example, is likely to have strong appeal to youth.

Key outcomes/take away messages

  • Indigenous participation in global trade can change global trade.
  • Scale is essential to have influence and access markets.
  • Collaborations with others, including government and private sector, based on shared understanding and mutual respect, are an important success factor.
  • Work with indigenous peoples, not for indigenous peoples.
  • The need to share knowledge and inspire others.