Iwi and local government leaders in Whakatāne have been reassured by a visit from the Deputy Prime Minister in hard economic times.
Winston Peters visited the Bay of Plenty yesterday to announce a $2.5 million boost to "speed up" three Whakatāne river projects and a $2.1m loan for the expansion of a Māori-led blueberry orchard near Te Teko.
The Provincial Growth Fund top-up in Whakatāne is for the riverfront revitalisation, the commercial boat harbour and a kāinga development that previously received $36.8m as part of the New Zealand Upgrade Programme.
Collectively the projects are expected to create more than 450 jobs by 2030.
The Meihana Koata Trust will use its newly allocated loan to develop an 18ha blueberry orchard with Miro, a collective of 29 Māori iwi, hapū and whānau.
It is expected to create 157 local jobs.
In February, the Government also announced a separate $2.125m Whenua Māori loan for the trust.
Peters compared the Covid-19 economic recovery to the years after he Great Depression, when he spoke at a hui at Te Whare Wānanga o Awanuiārangi yesterday morning.
"People sacrificed, saved and worked together and they had a belief that next month, next year, 10 years from now they'd be so much better off. We kept hope alive back then and we need to do so again."
Whakatāne mayor Judy Turner later told the crowd the riverfront projects "show and ensure that Whakatāne has the foundations for a new economic growth time ahead".
Ngāti Awa kaumātua Joe Harawira said the funding would keep the community "optimistic" and give the projects "a much-needed kickstart".
Peters then toured the berry orchard in Te Teko after lunch and announced the Provincial Growth Fund loan to "unlock the economic potential" of the whenua.
He said the orchard operation "demonstrates the growing support for Māori-owned and Māori-led businesses and the positive impact they have on our communities".
"If everybody puts their best foot forward it will be as successful as Zespri. There's no reason it shouldn't."
Peters said the orchard was "a sustainable, modern approach to develop Māori land" and allowed staff to be trained in "high-tech horticultural practices".
Meihana Koata trustee Marie Tiananga thanked the Deputy Prime Minister.
She said he had "the fortitude and the guts to stand up against others and say:'Māori can do this'".
Director Steve Saunders said Miro was now "the largest berry substrate-growing property [50ha] in the country".
He thanked staff for their "relentless efforts" at the orchard.
"To get where it is today hasn't been easy."