The man charged with improving and developing relationships with dairy giant Fonterra's Māori supplier base believes his work will have positive spinoffs for the entire company.

General manager Māori strategy Tiaki Hunia has been on the road for the past 11 months talking to Māori suppliers and ensuring they feel part of the company, that sound communication channels are in place, and that they have the support and the capacity to grow their businesses, including access to technology.

Hunia says a large part of that process has involved talking to Māori suppliers, many of whose properties were owned as part of incorporations, trusts, and whānau entities.

This has been particularly important given Māori's strong ancestral connection to the land and the statutory role iwi play within the execution of the Resource Management Act.
Māori are reported to own more than 30 per cent of fishing quota, 30 per cent of land under plantation forests, 10 per cent of kiwifruit and dairy production, and 25 per cent of sheep and beef production.

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This underscores why Hunia — who has been in governance roles in organisations ranging from Ngāti Awa Group Holdings Ltd, Māori Investments Ltd and Putauaki Trust — is activating Fonterra's Māori supplier base.

The Ministry for Primary Industries underlines that as the vision of tangata whenua is intergenerational and long-term, Māori are key contributors to New Zealand's current and future economy. MPI is investing in programmes that support Māori to sustainably develop their primary sector assets, to own more of the value chain, and address challenges such as access to capital, infrastructure, water, and expertise.

Te Puni Kōkiri notes a challenge facing New Zealand is to ensure all regions are able to take advantage of the strong economic growth predicted by 2040.

Presently, there is a disparity between economic and social indicators across regions, and a risk that these disparities may become further entrenched.

Treaty settlements will assist iwi to invest in the development of their people and assets in the regions, but will not be enough in themselves, TPK said. "Central and local government, iwi and the private sector will need to co-develop and invest in opportunities in the regions. The growing Māori population will need to produce more
entrepreneurs, innovators, skilled workers and homeowners to grow and improve the Māori asset base."

That's already well under way according to law firm Chapman Tripp, which says business-savvy iwi are extending their investments. The firm's 2018 publication — Te Ao Māori Trends and Insights — says large and medium-sized iwi are focusing on how they can provide tangible benefits to members and make Treaty settlements relevant to whanau.

A 30-year dream to establish a Māori investment fund is also at the starting gate, with commitments of $115m having been made, and the agribusiness sector likely to be a key target of its investment allocation.

NZ Superannuation Fund senior investment adviser Tama Potaka recently backgrounded the fund's development at a Māori business conference.

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When Potaka joined NZ Super last year, he was determined to find ways the organisation could connect more effectively with iwi/Māori.

About 85-88 per cent of NZ Super's investments are offshore. Its NZ Direct team has invested locally in timber, farms, infrastructure, banking and finance, IT, the aged/retirement sector, property and insurance.

"Our legislative arrangements mean we are unable to own more than 50 per cent of an operating business, therefore we are genetically hardwired to co-invest with aligned partners," says Potaka.

Many iwi/Māori groups have historically had limited diversification across portfolios, no direct investment teams, and minimal genuine "deal flow". They also tend to hold land for the long term, and where possible be active investors, Potaka says.

NZ Super is seeking to broaden its engagement with tangata whenua beyond bilateral or multilateral arrangements, including engagement with a larger number of iwi/Māori groups.

The idea of a single co-investment vehicle plugs into an issue iwi and Māori have talked about for years, but in a different way.

Some of NZ Super's peers, some iwi/Māori groups, and some investment advisors, are not universally and overly enthusiastic about the concept.

Says Potaka: "[They said] It wouldn't work — not enough groups would be interested — smaller investors would want to control the fund — it didn't fit the strategic asset allocation model. It was unproven.

However, in March the parties signed a memorandum of understanding under which Te Puia Tapapa Fund and the NZ Super Fund will be preferred partners. Te Puia Tapapa is a reference to a cluster of seed beds used to grow kumara, symbolising a co-investment fund for better growth and returns.

Potaka says the owners are of varying sizes and scale from $20m million in asset value through to $300m.