Sort It Careers highlights food and fibre opportunities for Māori

Manawatū’s annual careers expo, Sort It, has returned with a smaller, more tightly focused edition for 2021.

The Central Economic Development Agency held the first sector-specific version of the event, Sort It Careers – Food & Fibre Edition, at the Palmerston North Conference and Function Centre as part of New Zealand AgriFood Week on Thursday.

Agency spokeswoman Sara Towers said while Sort It got large numbers of students and career changes through in previous years, feedback from employers and training providers showed they tended to only get shallow, one-off interactions with them.

“A sector-specific approach allows Sort It Careers to focus on value over volume, with bespoke tailored events.”

Instead of a large and wide-ranging job fair, there were 16 booths for food and fibre-related companies, and the event’s focus was shifted to six featured speakers, who gave in-depth talks on topics from craft beer to environmental sustainability and the experiences and opportunities for Māori and women in the sector.

Towers said this new approach had also opened the door for a higher proportion of local companies, and new food and fibre exhibitors who might have been lost in the crowd in previous years.

Shay Wright spoke on his experiences as a co-founder of Te Whare Hukahuka, which helped set up and grow Māori businesses, and the food and fibre trends creating opportunities for Māori.

Wright said the biggest opportunity for Māori in the sector, was that iwi and Māori land trusts owned a lot of land – much of it was under-used.

“A lot of medium or larger food businesses started as small hobby producers, but a big barrier [for new start-ups] is land which is very expensive and hard to get now.

“So there’s an opportunity for young Māori with an entrepreneurial mindset to work in partnership with their elders for access to iwi land.”

Wright said traditionally the Māori economy was based on traditional farming commodities, although there had been a recent trend towards higher value crops which could be grown on more marginal land.

A good example of that was Ngāti Kahungunu who were using sections of their rohe in Tararua, that were difficult to farm, to grow high-value hemp and Manuka honey crops.

However, because Māori business traditionally focused on production the revenue still often ended at the farm gate.

Wright said by helping Māori entrepreneurs find the land they needed, iwi could create a “vertically integrated” Māori economy – with revenue from each step from production to the consumer going back to supporting their communities.

“Doing that will take [a wide-range of] skills, from science and processing to marketing and new ideas.

“So there are heaps of job opportunities in this space for young Māori, and the opportunities are only going to grow.”

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