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Connecting indigenous foods to markets: the Maori experience in New Zealand


08/12/2016 - 

For the first time in 40 years, the Committee on World Food Security (CFS) hosted a side event about indigenous peoples and their food systems. This space provided a unique opportunity to share experiences of how indigenous peoples can utilise their resources, knowledge and food production methods to engage into markets in a manner that embraces their traditions and culture.

Organized by FAO and the Government of New Zealand, the event featured the first-hand experience of the Maori tribes that have brought their foods to national and international markets. During the discussion, the use certification methods as a way to capture added value was of particular relevance, as well as the positive outcomes obtained. 

Indigenous communities are increasingly interested in engaging in global markets, as long as they can do so in culturally appropriate ways. As pointed out by H. E. Patrick John Rata, Ambassador and Permanent Representative of New Zealand to FAO, ”what we have learnt in New Zealand is that development can take many forms, and that there are many ways to achieve development. Indigenous peoples are empowering themselves to retain their identity and to develop their cultures in terms that are consistent with their philosophies and histories.” 

Indeed, the experience of the Te Rarawa tribe in accessing markets is a great example of the unique vision of indigenous peoples. Hemi Toia, a Maori himself and manager of the Te Waka Pupuri Putea Group, explained the main features of his business philosophy, which is based in four pillars of success that are equally important: economic, social, environmental and cultural. 

“Imagine that economically we are doing great, that our net profits are fantastic but we are killing the environment that we live in, that our children we live in. We would be destroying the very thing that gives us life and that we are connected to. As Maoris, we have no desire to do that. We are connected to the land and we have the obligation and the desire to do what is right.” 

Not only this Maori-led business cares for environmental and cultural aspects when producing and trading food, it also has a strong collective component and looks at the well-being and benefit of the whole community while using the business as an opportunity of empowerment and sustainable growth. 

Food certification

With the support of New Zealand government, Maori experiences on the certification of their products were presented as an effective way to capture the added value of indigenous products, which stems from the distinctiveness embedded in the way indigenous peoples manage their foods and the care they take in the process. 

”In terms of certification, there are companies that are helping to market Maori products. Our branding is unique and very traditional to us, moreover the majority of indigenous trading will be organic. Our culture absolutely says to us that land is sacred, waters are sacred so the way we farm and produce must reflect that,” commented Carl Hutchby, part of the Indigenous Peoples Constituency in the Civil Society Mechanism.  

This is a great example of how indigenous peoples, as well as the whole society, can benefit from sustainable food production models. 

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