Rotorua-based Maori plantation forestry investment venture Toitu Te Waonui (TTW) made a significant step forward this month when it generated a positive reception from international timberland investors at a conference in New York.
Director Te Taru White stunned the 150 delegates, with a collective $2.92 trillion in their pockets, with his mihi, focused presentation, waiata and haka, said forestry consultant Dennis Neilson of DANA, which co-organised the conference with US-based RISI.
In an unsolicited response to TTW's presentation, RISI's US director, international timber, Robert Flynn emailed Mr White, saying: "As someone who has helped to organise too many conferences to number, and sat through countless presentations on forestry and forest investment, I sincerely hope you won't dismiss my appraisal as casual flattery: Yours was the single most impressive presentation I've ever had the honour to enjoy."
Mr Neilson described the TTW venture as the most promising NZ forest land expansion project for decades.
TTW aims to provide Maori landowners with a commercial forestry model under which international and some domestic investors will finance the afforestation, but will eventually sell to the iwi landowners. The venture's Wellington-based lawyer Guy Royal, who took part in the New York presentation, said TTW had spent two years evaluating suitable land.
"We've identified 100,000 hectares across New Zealand," said Mr Royal. "The launchpad is 30,000ha roughly divided into thirds across three regions, Rotorua/Bay of Plenty, Northland, and Whanganui/Taranaki."
Most of the land holdings were underused, but many were adjacent to forested land.
Mr Royal said the initiative arose out of discussion by iwi leaders concerned at the closure of mills and the effect on their communities. They discussed buying a mill, but decided it made more sense to build up a controlled supply of wood, then drive value-add activity. The venture has been set up as a trust, and structured to keep management costs down.
"This was very focused from the outset to be a commercial model to put in front of Maori land owners." (See story below)
TTW ended up with a dozen meetings in New York off the back of the conference and came away with five potential investors.
TTW sponsor Mike King, who is managing director of Rotorua's Interpine Forestry, said the New York visit had been an important step forward.
"Sometimes you can be moving along believing you're doing the right thing, but not quite knowing how to measure yourself until you're confronted with these situations and find people are queuing up and saying, 'hey we want to talk to you guys'."
* New Zealand Forest Wood Processing Sector Seminar & Conference
* Organiser: DANA
* Where: Rotorua
* Date: August 29-30, 2016
* Includes: Field trip to sawmills and forests