I went to a presentation recently about mahinga kai followed by one on farm environment plan audits and came away highly impressed with the progress being made both by farmers and Environment Canterbury.
The concept of mahinga kai may be new to some farmers but simply relates to the traditional Ngāi Tahu value of food resources and the supporting ecosystems, as well as the work to produce, gather and protect those resources. This is what farmers already do.
Most farmers will have areas that are valuable for traditional mahinga kai, for instance if you have freshwater crayfish in your drain, lizards in your flax, or whitebait in your creek. If you’ve been through the process of developing a farm environment plan, or have even had your first audit, there is probably a section about mahinga kai (most FEPs in Canterbury are now required to include mahinga kai values).
Incorporating mahinga kai values
What I got from the presentation on mahinga kai – which was made by two Environment Canterbury cultural advisors – was their enthusiasm for what farmers are already doing, which presents a real opportunity for the rural sector to show how it is aligned with the wider community’s desire for environmental protection and enhancement.
Like Ngāi Tahu, farmers embrace their role as guardians of their land and water resources, and many are already implementing the good management practices needed to protect freshwater quality and ecosystems, which in turn will be contributing to mahinga kai values.
Mahinga kai areas on your farm are likely to be places where you are already taking special care by keeping stock out of waterways to avoid contamination, by planting alongside streams or ponds, or by fencing off and protecting wetlands, spring-heads, or significant areas of native bush.
Promoting the value of mahinga kai
I would also like to call on farming leaders, irrigation companies, and other industry players to take a more active role in promoting the value of mahinga kai for farmers as well as encouraging them to be well prepared when it comes to audit time. We recognise that farmers are being asked to do more with nutrient budgets, land-use consent to farm, as well as farm environment plans and audits and they need as much support and encouragement as possible.
So, my message around mahinga kai is there is nothing to be afraid of and if you are already doing your farm environment plan it may be as simple as identifying areas and actions that align with mahinga kai and thinking about how you can add to those. When it comes to audit time it’s about being well prepared – it should be a discussion about how to build on and improve what’s already been done.