Back in 2010 growers from the Te Whānau-ā-Apanui Iwi in Eastern Bay of Plenty needed qualified horticulturalists for their orchard operations, but saw the many obstacles that made tertiary study almost impossible for their people.
The same year, they introduced a sustainable labour initiative by forming Te Whānau-ā-Apanui Fruit Growers Incorporation to financially assist people in the area as they studied horticulture at a variety of levels, the highest being a diploma qualification.
With no government or tertiary buy-in, six blocks of Apanui Fruitgrowers put in $10,000 to establish a Trust.
Hineora Orchard Te Kaha 15B, which has been instrumental in the project, have four graduates working on the orchard through OPAC, in various managerial roles. Some also work in Te Kaha Gold Sprayers and Te Heriko Nursery, both owned by the Te Kaha Group.
They include Te ataarangi Parata, who achieved a level 5 certificate in Fruit for Production in 2014.
Since then she’s worked as a leading hand at Te Heriko Nursery.
Without the support of Te Whānau-ā-Apanui Fruit Growers, Te ataarangi says there’s no way she would’ve been able to study. “I didn’t have a spare $3000 lying around. The Fruit Growers Incorporated covered the costs, and paid us while we studied.
“During the course I fell pregnant and planned to drop out, but they made sure I was accommodated for. I’m so pleased I carried on. Six of us friends started the course, and we all graduated together three years later.
“The best thing to come out of it is the pure joy you get from encouraging others to study. Besides money, knowledge is the most powerful thing – it betters people.”
Te Kaha 15B board chairman Norm Carter says to date, 59 people have gained horticulture qualifications with assistance from TWAAFI.
Conducting the programme in a sustainable way has been a challenge, says Norm.
“Distance is a big thing. Toi-Ohomai Tauranga is the closest institute. They provide excellent horticulture training, but they are almost three hours away from Te Kaha, which is travel our people can’t afford.”
The initiative began by funding two vans to transport students from as far as Pōtaka, to Toi-Ohomai.
“We did this for close to two years, but at $60,000 yearly, it was unsustainable.”
In an effort to cut costs, the group suggested a different model where Toi-Ohomai tutors came to the students at the expense of the trust. Two tutors would travel to Te Kaha once a fortnight, for three days.
They use the same model today with lessons taking place at Tui Lodge, owned by two blocks from within the Te Kaha Group.
Expenses are still significant. TWAAFI pay $50 per day for the use of Tui Lodge, and supply desks, laptops and other equipment.
“A big deterrent for people going to study is not being able to earn a wage, so we pay them a $100 daily grant, to help with costs at home,” say Norm.
Travel for field trips and motel accommodation for students required to attend Toi-Ohomai for certain lessons is also covered.
Now, more community initiatives are on the horizon for Te Whānau-ā-Apanui Iwi after the Te Kaha Landowners Group received a Provisional Growth Fund grant for at least $370,000. And access to another $13 million may be available through the PGF, as low interest loans, to the Te Kaha Group.
The development will see Te ataarangi placed into a new managerial role. Several projects are planned, including the development of 2ha kiwifruit orchard of land next to Te Whānau-ā-Apanui Area School, just north of Te Kaha.
Money generated from the orchard will help remove learning barriers in the area early by funding school trips. Norm says this will alleviate stress from parents, who normally have to fundraise to meet these external costs.
And students will get first-hand orchard experience. “That experience will create pathways in a variety of subjects outside of horticulture, including environment, legal, accounting and business management. “We hope to integrate it into the curriculum, so their experience can contribute to NCEA credits.”