A carbon-trading business seeking to unlock millions of dollars from communal Māori land is launching today in a scheme which will provide the Government's Billion Trees plan a massive boost.

High-profile Māori leaders have joined a board led by Ngāi Tahu's Sir Mark Solomon, who said the Māori Carbon Foundation was looking to plant on "marginal" land - often the remnants of colonial land grabs.

​"My focus right from the start has really been aimed at Māori because a lot of the lands Māori were left with were called 'marginal lands' and those types of lands are very good for carbon sinks," said Solomon.

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The Māori Carbon Foundation is aiming to plant on 150,000ha as an initial target - a mass of land that would allow around 150 million trees to be planted.

It is not only pitching business to communal Maori land owners but any landowners willing to sign up.

The Māori Carbon Foundation launches today in Kaikoura with a focus on the benefits of planting trees on earthquake-stricken land in the area. At least one Government minister and local mayors are expected to attend.

The business model sees the company carrying the cost of planting, maintaining and insuring the forest. Landowners get an even share of profits after seven years when the start-up cost is covered. Income comes from trading the carbon credits generated by the trees.

Solomon said the 50-50 profit "comes from our belief that whanau should be full partners in the development of their whenua".

"There is no cost other than use of the land and access to the land and the time that is involved for that access - a 30-year right. There is no lien on the land, there is no mortgage to the land," Solomon said.

He said the particular focus on Māori saw Tai Tokerau's Hone Harawira, leader of the Mana Movement, also on the board and Dame Tariana Turia earmarked to lead a trust aimed at social benefits for communities where forests were planted.

The first board meeting of the Maori Carbon Foundation: Jevan Goulter, left, Michelle Boag, Murray McCully, Sir Mark Solomon, Maru Nihoniho and Hone Harawira.
The first board meeting of the Maori Carbon Foundation: Jevan Goulter, left, Michelle Boag, Murray McCully, Sir Mark Solomon, Maru Nihoniho and Hone Harawira.

Solomon said the business required leaders to connect with communities where planting would take place. Solomon's roots were in the South Island, Turia in the central North Island and Harawira in the north.

"It's a lot easier to go out to the whanau when you are whanau to talk about a deal. It is kanohi ki te kanohi, face to face.

Asked about the striking sight of Harawira sharing a board room table with prominent National Party figures, Solomon said: "There's no politics at the table."

Solomon said the business had funding available to plant on large tracts of land. Land had to be suitable - the company needed to test to ensure it fit with the requirements of the Emission Trading Scheme.

"We're completely independent of the Government. We are a private organisation. But this definitely contributes to the Government's target of a billion trees."

The fastest returns were on exotic trees, such as Douglas fir and pinus radiata. Some native trees were suitable but took longer to grow, so produced slower returns.

Other members of the board are former Minister of Foreign Affairs Murray McCully, former National Party president Michelle Boag, Māori Entrepreneurial Leader of the Year, Maru Nihoniho, and communications strategist Jevan Goulter.

University of Auckland Professor of Māori Studies Margaret Mutu, who has shares in communal land in the Far North and mid-North, said colonisation saw land targeted for the use it would provide settlers.

"They pushed us off the best productive land. The land we have left was the least productive land. What land we have left now is extremely marginal."

Mutu said the land which remained was often needed by Māori to live on, which saw tension between that primary need and using its productive qualities.