Northland College students will soon be getting hands-on experience in the lucrative manuka honey industry.
The school's latest initiative, launched on Thursday in the presence of more government ministers than Kaikohe has seen since the Northland by-election, involves planting 30ha of school-owned farmland in manuka trees.
Students in the college's farm and forestry academy will be able to gain a certificate in apiculture (beekeeping) through a partnership with Lincoln University, as well as learning business and management skills. Proceeds from the honey will go back into the school. The area planted may be expanded to 100ha next year.
Ministers Steven Joyce (Economic Development), Te Ururoa Flavell (Maori Development) and Hekia Parata (Education) - who had just been to the launch of the Tai Tokerau Northland Economic Action Plan in Kerikeri - helped plant the symbolic first 10 trees.
Developing the industry, which generated more than $280 million in export revenue last year, is one of the Government's plans for lifting Northland's economy.
The initial work of clearing the land and planting the trees, a cultivar which is small in size but thick with flowers, will be done by the town's long-term unemployed.
Up to 15 adults could be employed under the initiative. Mr Flavell said nearly 46 per cent of people in the region gained at least some of their income from benefits.
"This project could be the first of many which will help our people get off benefits and back on their feet."
Northland College principal Jim Luders described the scheme as "really exciting". Producing manuka honey was a way for Maori to regain economic independence through their land. The farmland to be planted has potential for erosion. The manuka would help stabilise the land.
Alongside the farm and forestry academy with 40 students, Northland College also has 10 students in a hospitality academy and 20 in a military academy.
Earlier in the day, Mr Guy outlined other plans to boost the region's earnings from farming and forestry. Several Maori trusts in Te Hiku were working on setting up a sheep and beef farming collective that could cover 17,000ha and double meat production within five years. Another nine Maori trusts had formed the Te Tai Tokerau Maori Forestry Collective and were about to plant 800ha of land. Maori were investing $1.2 million, partners $115,000 and the Government $270,000.