Carbon farming on Māori land: Assets or liabilities?

6:06 pm on 22 November 2023


Concerns about a group known as the Māori Carbon Collective are the focus of the latest investigation from Mata Reports.

Launched in 2018, the Māori Carbon Collective was promoted as an indigenous approach to carbon farming, enabling iwi to prosper from the Emissions Trading Scheme while helping to tackle climate change.

The new documentary from journalists Mihingarangi Forbes and Annabelle Lee-Mather investigates growing concerns around the group and its elusive managing director, as well as carbon farming's impact on Māori communities.

Much of the investigation focuses on land at Aorangi-Awarua inland of Taihape. The land is almost completely inaccessible to its owners and can only be reached via helicopter - many owners have never set foot on their land.

Lee-Mather said at the beginning of the investigation they wanted to know what the pros and cons of carbon farming were for Māori communities.

"Mihi and I, we're always very interested in what happens for our people at a grassroots level... and the story of Aorangi Awarua is not unusual."

Māori land trusts are primarily run on a voluntary basis by whānau who take on board roles and are fuelled by goodwill and love for their iwi hapū and whenua, Lee-Mather said.

"I think for everyone involved in Māori land trusts, they really want to create opportunities for their tamariki for their mokopuna and in doing so we have to be careful that we don't actually create something that's going to be a liability, not an asset.

"And from what we're learning about exotics and pine trees - particularly in places like the East Coast - is that it's not a straightforward proposition."

She said Māori land trusts needed to be prepared as more ETS companies looked to marginal Māori land.

"Māori land trusts more and more are going to find themselves being approached to consider carbon farming on their whenua, and we thought it would be good for people to have an understanding of how it works and what the pros and cons are."

From 2016 to 2022, Forbes and Lee-Mather hosted and produced, respectively, current affairs show The Hui.

Annabelle Lee-Mather and Mihingarangi Forbes.

Annabelle Lee-Mather and Mihingarangi Forbes. Photo: Supplied / Mata

Lee-Mather said it was wonderful to have a weekly platform for Māori stories, but their series of documentaries for Mata Reports this year have allowed them to dive much deeper into each kaupapa.

"We are able to take the time required to delve into these really difficult challenging issues that require a lot of research, a lot of crafting, a lot of phone calls, a lot of time spent investing in relationships and building up trust and all of those sorts of things, so we're really grateful that we've been able to tell the stories that we've told this year."

Lee-Mather said she was extremely grateful and lucky to have been able to take the time to work on the Māori Carbon Collective investigation.

You can watch the full documentary on TVNZ+.