Māori Economy

The Maori Economy - A sleeping giant about to awaken?

Wednesday December 22, 2010

The Maori economy dates right back to the migration. When Maori settled New Zealand they carried an economy with them, as one example, bringing the kumara across the Pacific. As original resources ran out, Maori adopted a more sustainable economy, based on cultivating kumara and fern root, and a careful harvest of the forests, the seashore and the sea. Tribes (iwi) were self sufficient in most resources, but there was additional trade between iwi.

With the arrival of the Europeans, the Maori quickly began to trade food, especially pigs and potatoes and other resource for European wares such as nails and muskets. At first some European settlers survived only because of the supply of Maori food, often carried along the coast by Maori-owned schooners. Maori gladly ate the new foods that the European introduced. Following loss of land and a declining population from the mid-19th century, the Maori economy became increasing marginalised. Despite living almost entirely rurally, Maori found it difficult to take full advantage of the pastoral farming revolution. After the Second World War, Maori moved to urban centres to find jobs and prospects.

Today the Maori economy is an integral part of the New Zealand economy and spans several industries. The BERL model of the Maori economy has identified 16 key industries. However traditionally, conversations about the Maori economy are focussed around the 3 F’s – namely Fisheries, Forestry and Farming. Here’s a summary of these:


Maori control up to 37% of New Zealand’s domestic fishing quota. In 1992, the government made an agreement with Maori that involved purchasing fishing assets, valued then at $170 million. The 'Sealord deal', as it became known, brought Maori interests in New Zealand's fisheries and seafood industry. Since then, commercial activity by a number of Maori groups have seen those interests expand.

The government also agreed to give the Maori Fisheries Commission 20 per cent of the quota for each new species that went into the Quota Management System. Both the 1989 and 1992 deals were implemented in law.

Aotearoa Fisheries Limited (AFL) was formed as a result of a pan-tribal agreement, followed by the passing of the Maori Fisheries Act in September 2004. AFL is made up of a 50% shareholding in Sealord and Prepared Foods Ltd; and 100% ownership of Moana Pacific Fisheries, Chatham Processing, Pacific Marine Farms and Prepared Foods Processing.


Maori have a large ownership interest in forestry land including around 36% of pre-1990 forests. Maori make up a large part of the forest industry workforce, own large areas of indigenous forest and land used for plantation forestry, and are likely in future become significant plantation forest owners. Maori currently own at least 14% of the land underlying plantation forests and this proportion will continue to increase in future as a result of ongoing Treaty settlements. For example, in June 2008, the Crown signed a Deed of Settlement with the seven iwi who are members of the Central North Island Collective - Ngai Tuhoe, Ngati Tuwharetoa, Ngati Whakaue, Ngati Whare, Ngati Manawa, Raukawa, and the Affiliate Te Arawa Iwi and Hapu. Together the tribes have recovered ownership of the land under Kaingaroa and eight other central North Island forests. The 176,000-hectare estate land is estimated to be worth $196 million. Since 1989, the owners of the forests on that land have been paying rent for the Crown Forest Licences that entitle them to grow trees there. The rentals were collected on behalf of Crown and Maori by the Crown Forest Rental Trust, This trust that has used the interest from the accumulated rentals to finance claims' research and other activities. The accumulated rent on the CNI forests had reached $223 million and was passed to the CNI collective, together with ownership of the land. Combined with other Forestry settlements in the Bay of Plenty region forestry asset base in the Waiariki region equates to over 186,000 hectares, with a value of $320.5m and accumulated rent of $241.6m

Waiariki Forestry Settlement Assets, Value as at 2009, ($m)


Maori farming is still a key part of the Maori Economy. Evidence of the success and continued progress in this sector is celebrated by the rekindled Te Ahuwhenua Trophy, awarded to the Maori ‘Farmer-of-the-Year’. Maori collectively-owned land trusts and incorporations have operated for many years as corporate farming entities.

The rejuvenated Te Ahuwhenua Trophy has seen competition among the Maori trusts and incorporations of several thousand hectares with thousands of head of stock, extensive agro-forestry, dairying, geothermal generation, horticulture and strategies for continued expansion and productivity gains. Their boards and management engage in debates over sustainability, carbon credits, and added-value exports that require international benchmarking for best practice in financial, legal and managerial operations. The 2009 winner, Pakarae Whangara B5 (based at Whangara of ‘Whalerider’ fame, 20km north of Gisborne), was formed in 2006 from the amalgamation of two neighbouring farms, Pakarae and Whangara B5 to form a 5,600-hectare property that now runs a Romney-based flock of over 27,000 sheep, and a herd of over 18,000 Angus-cross cattle. The Trustees have bigger plans for future development. Such examples are dotted through the regions, bringing benefit to the New Zealand Economy from Cape Reinga to the Bluff, and even Rakiura or Stewart Island.

As it stands today, the Maori Economy produces currently about 5% of New Zealand’s production GDP. This equates to just under $10bn per annum. Is that significant? Some say yes, others say no. Beyond the 3 F’s, other key sectors in the Maori Economy include manufacturing, business services and health, education and other services. As the asset base continues to grow, the opportunity for the Maori Economy to grow and contribute more to New Zealand’s GDP is a positive for both Maori and non-Maori.

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