So, there is a lot of attention on Kaikohe at present – sadly, not for the right reasons. It is my belief that this community, which is absolutely without doubt struggling, will shine again and become a beacon of hope.
There are many remarkable people and organisations within Kaikohe focused on making a difference, which is and will create catalysts for positive change. One excellent example is the Omapere Rangihamama Trust. The trust is one of three finalists in the 2017 Maori Excellence in Farming Award (sheep and beef) for the Omapere Farm. This is the 85th year the Ahuwhenua Trophy will be presented. It is the most prestigious award for Maori agriculture, launched by Sir Apirana Ngata and the Governor General at the time, Lord Bledisloe.
I had the privilege of attending the Field Day last week and saw first-hand the mahi that is being undertaken, which has seen this beautiful farm grow from strength to strength.
It has an interesting history. Up until the 1950s, the Omapere land had separate titles. The size of the individual lots became uneconomic, so under the Maori Affairs Act 1953, the separate titles were amalgamated under one title, known as Omapere Taraire E and Rangihamama X3A Ahu Whenua Trust. The land was then managed by the Department of Maori Affairs. During the process, the Crown (through the Maori trustees) acquired a substantial holding (shares) in the Omapere block.
Under new leadership, from 2007 there has been a determined effort by the trustees and shareholders to buy back the shares, with the trust now owning over 54%, with an ongoing strategy to fully own all the shares in the not-to-distant future. I also understand that when the new leadership took over, the farm was in substantial debt. This was turned around within three years.
The farm borders the only Maori - owned lake in Aotearoa, Lake Omapere. This is considered a sacred site and a taonga tupuna in its own right. Care of the environment is a major foundation for the trust’s strategy and reducing their environmental footprint is taken very seriously. An example is the fencing of a significant buffer zone bordering the lake. The Ahuwhenua Handbook quotes “the trust is a great model of whanau working collaboratively to gain maximum return from their land, but at the same time placing equal emphasis on preserving this taonga for future generations”.
When one considers that there is 18% freehold Maori land in the Far North (about 2,000 blocks), with less than 15% in production, the Omapere Rangihamama Trust is certainly demonstrating a top model for success. And I know they want to share their journey – ‘if you can do it here you can do it anywhere.’ The award will be announced in Whangarei on 26 May. Whatever the outcome, the trust should be very proud of their achievements to date. They are already proving what can be achieved when good business and aroha for the tangata and whenua come together.