He Tātai Rangahua-Food and Fibre Youth Network Council members Cheyenne Wilson, Ben Purua and Alex Tomkins recently attended the prestigious Ahuwhenua Trophy awards dinner where they absorbed the atmosphere, engaging with industry professionals and gaining valuable insights into the achievements and challenges faced by the horticulture sector.
The Ahuwhenua Trophy, established 90 years ago by Sir Apirana Ngata and Lord Bledisloe, is the most prestigious award for excellence in Māori farming and horticulture. It encourages Māori farmers to improve their land and overall farming practices with a focus on sustainability. The competition rotates among Māori in the sheep and beef, horticulture, and dairy sectors every three years, recognising and celebrating their contributions to the agricultural industry.
This year the Ahuwhenua Awards was held in Tauranga Moana and attended by over 900 people, included esteemed guests such as the Minister for Māori Development, Hon Willie Jackson, representatives of the Kiingitanga, government officials, agribusiness leaders, and whānau from all the finalists.
Minister Jackson extended his congratulations to all the finalists and winners, emphasising the significance of these awards in recognising the accomplishments of Māori in the agriculture sector. He highlighted the tremendous growth of the Māori economy, now valued at up to $80 billion, and expressed the need to acknowledge and celebrate these achievements.
Wi Pere Trust, located near Gisborne, was announced as the winner of this year's Ahuwhenua Trophy for the top Māori horticultural enterprise. This is the second consecutive year that Wi Pere Trust has received this esteemed recognition, having won the Ahuwhenua Trophy for the top sheep and beef farm in 2022. The announcement was met with jubilant scenes as the Wi Pere whānau took the stage to celebrate their achievement.
Nukuhia Hadfield, Chair of the Ahuwhenua Trophy Management Committee, acknowledged the difficult year experienced by growers and farmers in the primary sector, including the finalists. Despite the challenges posed by adverse weather conditions, all the finalists remained resilient and organised exceptional field days to showcase their orchards. Hadfield praised Wi Pere Trust as worthy winners and also commended all the finalists for demonstrating the strength and excellence of Māori horticulture. The other finalists were Ngāi Tukairangi Trust in Hastings and MIL – Whiritoa Orchards based in Te Teko
The other award of the night was the Ahuwhenua Young Māori Grower. The Ahuwhenua Young Māori Grower competition not only recognises the talent and potential of young Māori in the horticultural sector but also fosters the growth and development of future leaders.
Grace Rehu, a 21-year-old Leading Hand for Turners and Growers in Puketapu, Hawke's Bay, was announced as the winner of the prestigious 2023 Ahuwhenua Young Māori Grower award. This year's competition marked a historic moment as three wāhine Māori were selected as finalists for the first time. The other finalist were Alix Te Kere, Rockit Management Services, Hastings and Erica Henare, Pip Fruit and Kiwifruit Manager, Kono NZ LP, Motueka.
Grace Rehu expressed her gratitude for the amazing experience and opportunity the competition provided. She admitted that she was initially pushed into entering without fully understanding the extent of the challenge, but as her journey progressed, she developed a deep love for the kaupapa (purpose) and continued to pursue it. Grace acknowledged the support she received from the other two finalists, her partner, her whānau (family), and her employer, which played a crucial role in her success.
Grace Rehu's victory, alongside the achievements of all the finalists, is a testament to the bright future of Māori horticulture and the vital role these young wāhine Māori play in nurturing the land and their communities.
The other two finalists in the competition are: Alix Te Kere, Ngāti Kahungunu, Ngāti Tu, Ngāti Maru, and Ngāti Maniapoto. Alix Te Kere, 30, is the Health and Safety Advisor for Rockit Management Services. Erica Henare, Ngāti Kahungunu, Ngāti Maniapoto. Erica Henare, 27, is the Pipfruit and Kiwifruit Manager at Kono. This is the first time in the history of the competition that three wāhine Māori have been selected as finalists.