The kiwifruit is heading back to its Asian roots as exporter Zespri considers paying poor Vietnamese farmers to grow it.

But the prospect of taxpayer assistance for Zespri's Asian growers via New Zealand's overseas aid programme has outraged businessman Tony Gibbs, who is fighting a high-profile battle against Zespri's export monopoly.

Zespri's general manager of global supply, Simon Limmer, said the company was considering paying farmers in Southeast Asia to grow kiwifruit.

"Vietnam is on the radar as somewhere we're investigating," he said.

"Asia is a huge growth market for Zespri - China in particular, but also Southeast Asia - and we're looking at potential environments that we can grow kiwifruit in the off-season to offset our New Zealand supply when it isn't feasible."

Zespri, which already has growers in Korea and Japan, licenses farmers worldwide to grow the fruit, including the popular yellow variety.

Mr Limmer said his company was aware of "some NZ aid potential" in Vietnam that could help farmers set up to grow the fruit and understood such support was available in other regions as well. It is understood such an arrangement could potentially boost farmers' incomes many times over.

But Mr Gibbs, chairman of fruitpacker Turners & Growers, said he was unhappy taxpayer-funded aid might be used to support Zespri's overseas growers.

Mr Gibbs has been engaged in a long-running battle against Zespri's monopoly on exports. He says that apart from laws that give Zespri its monopoly, it receives further government support in the form of research and development by the HortResearch crown research institute.

He said NZAid assistance for prospective growers overseas amounted to a further taxpayer boost for the privately owned company.

Speaking en route to Vietnam for this weekend's East Asia Summit, Foreign Minister Murray McCully, who has ultimate oversight of New Zealand's overseas aid programmes, said the Government encouraged the horticultural and agricultural sectors to become more engaged with developing nations.

But he said aid and development assistance was not there for the benefit of New Zealand businesses.

He was not aware of any Zespri proposal involving NZAid but said steps would ensure any funding was used appropriately. A number of developing countries in Asia, Africa and the Pacific were looking to New Zealand's top producers for assistance and expertise.

"I'm talking to those sectors and saying I want them to help the Government work with these countries."

Companies involved could expect to develop long-term partnerships "but again, we're going to be very careful that any development money ... is being targeted towards the recipient nation".