Honey, meat, climate change and resilience were all on the table when a Māori farming collective of more than 9000 shareholders went to Expo 2020 Dubai to build new relationships with indigenous leaders around the world.
Ātihau-Whanganui Incorporation's outgoing chair Mavis Mullins says the expo's iwi-led Te Aratini Festival of Indigenous and Tribal Ideas was an opportunity to explore solutions to trade and other global issues.
Te Aratini – a world first for indigenous people at a global trade expo – turned out to be a ground-breaking forum for sharing knowledge, forging networks and exploring potential markets for the incorporation's honey and red meat products, she said.
"There was a lot of opportunity to pull together, whether it was about issues of revitalisation of culture, of reo, or whether it was around economies of scale or the economics of a tribal entity," Mullins said.
"I certainly had great opportunity for Ātihau-Whanganui Incorporation, particularly in exploring the options for honey and red meat.
"The thing that platforms all of that is the cultural understanding and respect that was there with Māori and the Emirati. We are having further ongoing discussions."
Mullins was a speaker in a number of panel discussions at the three-day international forum.
Indigenous thinking, and in particular the views of Whanganui River tribes, have been prominent on the global stage in Dubai, with New Zealand's pavilion built around the country's recognition of the legal rights of Te Awa Tupua (the Whanganui River and its tributaries). Ngā Tāngata Tiaki o Whanganui chair Sheena Maru was also a presenter at the Te Aratini festival in November.
Ātihau-Whanganui Incorporation is one of the country's largest farmers, with 70,000 sheep, 4000 beef cows, 700 dairy cows and 3000 beehives on 42,000 hectares of farmland from Ohakune to Whanganui.
Mullins said the mānuka honey market in the Middle East is all but flooded and a tangible point of difference for Ātihau-Whanganui product would be needed to capture any gap.
"We're exploring that. We had some interesting discussions about that. Ātihau-Whanganui are now endorsed as organic for a fair bit of our product. It's about the story and verifying the story. We've done a lot of work in that space already.
"Do we have a product that can differentiate? Possibly. There's no hurry from my perspective – we've taken a first step, we're building a relationship, let's make sure we understand what they want, when they want it, how they want it, and then look at whether that's something we can deliver on."
Mullins said the provision of red meat processed according to halal requirements for Muslim markets is a big potential opportunity for Ātihau-Whanganui but the timing was not yet right.
"There are challenges at the moment: the global logistical infrastructure is broken, getting containers in and out is difficult," Mullins said.
"The timing might not be great, but you don't want to let any opportunity go without having a look and understanding what that bigger ecosystem looks like. Some of these cultural elements are totally untapped.
"But it's not just trade and transactional opportunities, it's about global solutions. It's not just about going up there and cutting a deal, it is about cultural understanding, respecting the people, getting to know them.
"Whether it's about climate change or resilience or whānau, there's a lot of mātauranga (knowledge) that hasn't been given the light of day."