Open Access Te Herenga Waka-Victoria University of Wellington
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Beyond the dollar: Carbon farming and its alternatives for Tairāwhiti Māori landowners

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posted on 2023-09-22, 01:44 authored by Leo Mercer

This research explores landowner preferences for various land use options suitable for Māori land in Te Tairāwhiti, on the East Coast of the North Island of Aotearoa-New Zealand (henceforth Aotearoa). A particular emphasis is placed on the applicability and feasibility of native forest carbon farming within the New Zealand Emissions Trading Scheme (NZ ETS) and opportunities, barriers and risks associated with this land use. Alongside this focus, is a wider investigation into the socio-cultural, environmental and economic co-benefits Māori landowners associate with traditional and emerging land uses in Te Tairāwhiti. This study uses a transformative research approach that is rooted in the spirit of kaupapa Māori research.  Some 90 percent of Māori land in Te Tairāwhiti has severe limitations which restrict land use options to plantation forestry or pastoral farming for most landowners. A response to these limitations, and a land development option favoured by government agencies, and the academy, is for ‘unproductive’ Māori land to be retired into permanent native forest carbon sinks – a solution frequently proffered as a positive means to address national climate change commitments and local environmental and socioeconomic issues. Whilst these objectives, and the land use preferences of Māori seemingly converge, the wider history of land loss and alienation influences perceptions of fairness and equity for Māori landowners who may feel pressured by the lack of attractive land use options to establish permanent carbon sinks, which can effectively constrain land use options for future generations.  Through case study analysis of a Māori sheep and beef farming incorporation participating in the NZ ETS, this study suggests an economic case for carbon farming in Te Tairāwhiti. However, institutional and socio-cultural barriers hinder the participation of Māori landowners in the NZ ETS. The second focus of this thesis has been an investigation into how native forest carbon farming is viewed when compared to other novel and existing land uses suitable for Māori land in the Waiapu catchment (a highly erodible catchment in Te Tairāwhiti). Interviews with key informants were employed to curate a set of land use options for Māori landowners to appraise, using multi-criteria analysis, at two wānanga. Four land use models were created for appraisal by 16 Māori landowner participants. The strength of association between a co-benefit and a land use was collectively deliberated upon in each of these models, and ratings were assigned to reflect this association. These ratings have aided in assessing the wider value of land uses for Māori in the region.   The results from this research indicate an overwhelming preference for native forests when compared to other suitable land uses. Native forests are most closely associated with environmental co-benefits (erosion control, water quality, biodiversity and withstanding and limiting climate change) and social and cultural co-benefits (skills development, employment, reconnecting with the land, and self-determination/autonomy). The strong performance of native forestry stands in stark contrast with other land uses under consideration such as exotic forestry (Pinus radiata within the study scenario) and sheep and beef farming which occupy the majority of ‘productive’ land in Te Tairāwhiti. Exotic forestry and sheep and beef farming are associated with few benefits beyond employment and skills development. There is also a clear perception in the quantitative and qualitative data that these uses disconnect Māori landowners from their land and reduce the ability of communities to be self-reliant.   Interestingly, other novel land uses under consideration such as perennial horticulture (including blueberries, macadamia nuts and apples), medicinal cannabis and hemp, and hunting and tourism were also valued more than exotic forestry and sheep and beef farming. These results indicate that existing land uses, sometimes implemented without express input from local communities, are now the least preferred land uses. In addition, novel and untested land uses such as medicinal cannabis and hemp, which do not exist at any scale in the region, are preferred over existing uses - even when there is scant evidence of success at any scale.   These results push back at the prevailing Pākehā dominated orthodoxy, which has existed from the early days of colonisation and holds that monoculture land uses, for profit above all else, are best suited to the land and the people. It is clear, from this study, that Māori landowners wish to move back to a vibrant multi-faceted land use regime – exemplified by diversity over homogeneity – that characterised the pre-colonisation Māori economy. This research accordingly introduces and explores a value articulating process that increases understanding of the aspirations and values of Māori landowners, and can assist Māori in progressing their land use futures.


Copyright Date


Date of Award



Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Rights License

CC BY 4.0

Degree Discipline


Degree Grantor

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Degree Level


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

ANZSRC Type Of Activity code


Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Doctoral Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

School of Geography, Environment and Earth Sciences


Kiddle, Rebecca; Chapman, Ralph