With te reo Māori and mathematics his favourite subjects at school, Hunaara Waerehu, of Ngāti Porou, Tūhoe and Waikato-Tainui (Ngai Tai), says he was encouraged to look at a career in banking or finance. But the pull of the whenua, and the East Coast, was always too strong for him to stay in a city for long. Now, at age 20 (he turns 21 in August) and quite likely Federated Farmers’ youngest-ever provincial president, he has been elected to lead Gisborne-Wairoa.
He wants to play a part in the search by Tairāwhiti farmers, foresters, iwi and others for the right mix of land uses that will sustain te Taiao and the people in the face of climate change and other challenges.
What’s your farming background?
Well, I guess you could say that farming is in my whakapapa (genealogy). My family have been farming on our ancestral land for a long time; we have large shareholdings in a few Māori land blocks in my community here on the East Coast.
We also farm on our whenua of around 120 ha in rural and remote Tikitiki, 100 ha of which is covered in native bush, mainly mānuka and kānuka, and around 12 – 20 ha in flats and bare hillside. This is the land passed down from my ancestors and where they lived, hunted, and cultivated crops like kūmara.
Tell us about your own personal farming journey?
Alongside my younger sister, we were brought up on our farm since our infancy in the traditions of our tribe Ngāti Porou, and in accordance with our tribal customs our pito and whenua (umbilical cord and placenta), alongside those of my ancestors, are buried here on our land. This practice represents our continual connection to the land, and it binds us to it forever and holds us to account as caretakers.
To be honest I never saw myself being very heavily involved in agriculture. We always had our farm, but ever since I graduated High School and started University, I always thought I would end up in the city in one of those tall glass buildings. But I’ve tried about three times now to move permanently into the city, and three times now I’ve ‘successfully’ failed, always the call to home anchoring me into one place. To be honest I wouldn’t have it any other way.
I work for my uncle who runs his own agricultural consultancy firm in Gisborne, and he’s mentoring me in the agricultural space. Until last year I served on the board of Hikurangi Enterprises. So, I’m carving out my career in the agriculture sector. Supporting our great farming sector to create employment and economic development opportunities, even in remote areas such as Tairāwhiti.
When/why did you get involved with Federated Farmers?
I joined Federated Farmers at around 2020-2021, I joined because of our work around policy development, particularly policy that involved our regions such as Tairāwhiti and Wairoa. I saw Federated Farmers as staunch advocates for regional New Zealand and for our farming whānau who help build up and sustain our rural communities.
I see parallels with Māori and farmers in terms of the way they regard the land. Farmers are the natural kaitiaki of the whenua; their livelihood depends on it. I should say they are the first responders in caring for it – before the scientists, before the politicians, and definitely before the activists. Our financial, societal – and in the case of Māori, spiritual – affairs are integral to the land.
We have a lot of Māori incorporations and land trusts, and there are issues with the Te Ture Whenua Māori Act 1993. For new young Māori farmers trying to enter the field, it’s complicated. In fact, that’s spread right across New Zealand, and to be frank it’s hard for non- Māori to get a first foothold as well.
If I can help my fellow Federated Farmers provincial presidents, or Feds HQ, with engaging with iwi on any issue, I’m only too glad.
What are the top issues for farmers in your rohe?
The obvious one is around erosion control and mitigation in the face of these severe weather events. Then there’s finding the right balance of land use. One of my Ngāti Porou relatives, the Hon. Hekia Parata, has just released the findings of the Ministerial Report into Land Use. Our community has to work their way through that.
People have been farming sheep and beef for a very long time here on the coast and I want that to be able to continue. I’m not a big fan of pines at the moment, to say the least. My father was also a forester but pines create issues around land and water sources and you can’t ignore the fact that when we have slash build-up, it increases the likelihood of severe flooding and damage to infrastructure. We need to rediscover solutions, but without having to pile on more regulation on our farmers and without impacting our food production here in Tairāwhiti.