For the first time in a life lived in and out of prison Joseph Hura says all he wants when he gets up each day is to work — and to stop young men taking the path he followed.

Hura, who was released from jail five weeks ago after serving a 10-year sentence, is one of 20 Mid North men taking part in a ''learn while you earn'' mānuka planting programme.

They will work towards level two forestry qualifications while turning an iwi's under-used land into an asset producing mānuka honey, oil and carbon credits, as well as returning the land to native vegetation.

Hura, 42, said he did a short forestry course before his release.

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''I learnt how to use a chainsaw and I really liked cutting the logs up and that power underneath my hands. So, when I got released, I asked if there was a job in Kaikohe for me, preferably to do with forestry.''

The mānuka plantation trainees are welcomed to Otiria Marae in Moerewa. Photo / Peter de Graaf
The mānuka plantation trainees are welcomed to Otiria Marae in Moerewa. Photo / Peter de Graaf

However, Hura said his real passion was to work with rangatahi (youth) and share his experience of pulling out of gangs and ''staying off the crack''.

''This is the first time in all my years of coming in and out of jail, since I was 16, I've never wanted anything other than mahi [work]. This has allowed me to work full-time and work with rangatahi,'' he said.

Ngā Māhuri o Ngāti Hine (the saplings of Ngāti Hine) is a two-year programme to plant 200ha of Ngāti Hine Forestry Trust land in mānuka. A second course, starting in 2020, will hire another 20 trainees and the total plantings brought up to almost 500ha.

It is supported by the Government's One Billion Trees Programme through Te Uru Rākau (Forestry NZ) and the Ministry for Primary Industries, with Johnson Contractors providing the industry training.

Tyissa Hape, 14, left, and fellow Bay of Islands College students welcome the mānuka plantation trainees. Photo / Peter de Graaf
Tyissa Hape, 14, left, and fellow Bay of Islands College students welcome the mānuka plantation trainees. Photo / Peter de Graaf

Forestry Trust chairman Pita Tipene said the plantations would produce honey, mānuka oil and carbon credits as well as provide nursery cover for other plants and return tribal lands to native vegetation.

The first 200ha would be scattered around the Ngāti Hine rohe but especially around Matawaia and Ngāpipito. Much of the land is currently covered in scrub.

The idea was to provide jobs and make the land as productive as possible while protecting it at the same time.

''It's all about manaaki te whenua, looking after the land, looking after the waterways and ultimately looking after the people.''

Trainee Elton Tane of Moerewa gets a congratulatory hug from MP Willow-Jean Prime. Photo / Peter de Graaf
Trainee Elton Tane of Moerewa gets a congratulatory hug from MP Willow-Jean Prime. Photo / Peter de Graaf

Tipene said the trust had not been deterred by an incident last year in which 160,000 pine seedlings were mulched after the land they were destined for was too choked in scrub.

That was also a joint venture with the government under the Billion Trees Programme.

''Mistakes will be made, we've just got to carry on and keep working with the government that's looking to focus on the regions,'' he said.

The trainees are a mix of school leavers and older men who have struggled to find work or direction.

Supervisor Grant Te Whare said many were lost in terms of setting goals.

''But I've already seen a lot of want from these boys to be better, even to change their circle of friends.''

Ngā Māhuri o Ngāti Hine was launched at Otiria Marae in Moerewa on Monday. As well as trainees and iwi members, representatives of MPI, the Far North District Council and Northland Regional Council took part.