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Molecular characterisation of Māori traditional root crops in Aotearoa as an insurance policy for food security; He wae kai pakiaka (a grounded solution)

Molecular characterisation of Māori traditional root crops

This project is led by Tāhuri Whenua, the National Māori horticulture collective.

The Māori perspective of horticulture includes a growing and pressing need for food security alongside food sovereignty on what can be termed 'traditional Māori' foods. 

Nationally, most of the traditional foods are relegated to small-scale production systems which meet the primary cultural needs of manaakitanga and health; however there is a growing need for those individuals or groups who hold both the mātauranga and plant materials (seeds, parent plants, roots etc) to align with good science practices to ensure these factors are not lost for future generations. 

This project is aimed primarily at attaining food security through supporting kaitiaki and building Māori capability and future opportunity in the horticulture sector through documenting and managing historical and heritage crops and food sources aligned to Māori. The project title ‘He wae kai pakiaka’, refers to the need for a grounded approach to recognizing the untapped potential that exists around us - the project aspires to unlock this potential for Māori.

Drawing from the leadership of their kaumātua rōpū and their broad membership, Tāhuri Whenua will gather and manage plant materials and mātauranga into a ‘collection’ with appropriate international germplasm protocols, ensuring accessibility for future generations and long-term success. To support this, a scoping exercise will be undertaken to understand traditional and scientific education needs, and to enable the establishment of true kaitiaki to care for the kaupapa into the future.

The initial crops of interest for this project are those grown from clonal material including taewa, New Zealand taro and kūmara.  

Project outcomes include:

  • A full scientific and cultural characterisation of selected root crops.
  • A protocol suitable for the protection of the cultural relationship of Māori to accessions within an international collection.
  • A methodology for future accessions to international collections.
  • Protocols and methodology aligned to appropriate international programmes including FAO and the United Nations (SDGs).

Project team

  • Nick Rahiri Roskruge, Tāhuri Whenua (lead)
  • Aleise Puketapu, Tāhuri Whenua
  • Peter Dearden, University of Otago
  • Simon Apang Semese (PhD Candidate), Massey University