Kānuka tree products potential boon for Tairāwhiti

A new Government-backed project aims to turn locally grown kānuka into high-value gourmet products, bringing new jobs to Ruatōria and giving a boost to the local economy, Associate Minister of Agriculture Jo Luxton announced today.

Nuka Charitable Trust will receive $1.9 million over three years through the Ministry for Primary Industries’ Sustainable Food and Fibre Futures fund to establish a pilot plant producing ‘liquid smoke’ and juice from kānuka.

“There’s a huge opportunity to start a new industry for Aotearoa, provide jobs, and contribute to the local economy in Ruatōria,” Jo Luxton said.

“This area has recently faced unprecedented weather and the impacts of that are being widely felt. The potential economic boost from this project will be welcome news for the community as they look to recover.

“The liquid smoke from kānuka could be added to foods ranging from cheese to mussels, while the kānuka juice could be used as an ingredient in the nutraceutical industry for wellness-oriented beverages such as kombucha.

“The kānuka will be sourced from the more than 15,000 hectares of Māori-owned land in Tairāwhiti. This will benefit local landowners, especially those with currently unproductive land.

“The products will be developed using only the branches from kānuka, and the plant regenerates quickly.”

The project’s researchers from the University of Auckland have already developed laboratory-scale technology to extract juice from kānuka. The next stage is to test and optimise the process for production at scale.

The project will set up a mobile pilot plant at the University of Auckland initially, under the expert supervision of University of Auckland researchers, with the aim of achieving consistent production.

“Representatives of Whareponga from Ruatōria are in Auckland this week to put a programme together for training in how to maintain and operate the pilot plant, which will be relocated when the timing is right,” Jo Luxton said.

“The business expects to eventually employ about 15 people in skilled jobs. This is significant in a community of less than 800.

“We believe the market potential is high, with Nuka Charitable Trust already close to securing its first contract for the liquid smoke product.

“They are also working with experts to explore export markets, particularly in Asia, with their eye on the food ingredient contract market rather than branded retail.”

“One of the goals of the food and fibre sector and Government’s Fit for a Better World roadmap is to support the increased productivity and sustainability of whenua Māori.

“I’m excited by this new opportunity for local Māori landowners and whānau to produce unique, high-value products right in the heart of Tairāwhiti.”

Nuka was established as a charitable trust in November 2022 to facilitate commercial opportunities for tangata whenua and Māori landowners. The purpose of the Trust includes reducing barriers to education and academic research for tangata whenua.

Source:  Associate Minister of Agriculture


Author: Bob Edlin

Editor of AgScience Magazine and Editor of the AgScience Blog