Taking a Te Ao Māori approach to our national food system
He mana kai e toitū ai te ora o te ao
It is through mana kai that we gain long term sustenance for planet and people.
Developing a food system for a nation is no small task. Those newly charged with the undertaking could be forgiven for looking for inspiration elsewhere, and replicating what has already been implemented.
Not so in Aotearoa New Zealand. When a stakeholder think tank, held in the immediate aftermath of the first pandemic lockdown, called for the development of a National Food Strategy to respond to the increasing level of food insecurity across the motu, leaders were quick to realise the importance of responding to the challenge in a way that balanced the need for food production with the protection and regeneration of the environment.
Today, this uniquely Te Ao Māori approach has been applied to the priority action plan developed by The Aotearoa Circle’s Mana Kai Initiative, using a framework which presents a Māori view of our food system and its connection to the land, our natural environment and to our people. The framework centres on the principles of Mana o te Taiao (natural energy of the environment); Mana o te Tangata (harvesting and fair distribution of food); and Mana Kai (sustenance from food).
Mana Kai Chair Rangimarie Hunia (Te Hono Bootcamps II,IV) says that the action plan is a starting point.
“The Mana Kai framework, with agreement from growers, producers and eaters, outlines shared values, purpose, ambition and actions to enhance our food system for future generations. It calls for a commitment by us all, whether industry, iwi, research organisations, community groups, non-governmental organisations, or government, to eight initial actions that will continue our journey towards a balanced and thriving food system,” she says.
Guided by mātauranga Māori
“We knew we had to go broad, deep and local to capture the voices we needed to inform this strategy,” says KPMG Executive Chair and Mana Kai Deputy Chair Matthew Prichard (Bootcamps II,VIII, IX).
“We needed to look broadly at complex issues, such as feeding populations, our export economy, food sovereignty, and protection of environment. We needed to take a deep dive, capturing more than 250 perspectives in our interviews. And most importantly, we needed to take a local approach, founded in mātauranga Māori. This enabled us to balance haste with depth and to have our ears open to all voices, including those in our food system that we don’t usually hear from,” he says.
With Te Ao Māori principles established, the Mana Kai working group began the food and fibre industry’s first truly cross-sector collaboration, with a diversity of stakeholders ranging from charities to government. Two years of deep and wide dialogue, engagement and development followed, funded by The Aotearoa Circle, AGMARDT and KPMG.
What is Mana Kai?
Mana Kai is a framework building on the good will and hard work of communities, iwi Māori and food sector experts, to collaborate and expand into an Aotearoa-specific food system that we are all proud of and aspire to, with tīkanga, kaitiakitanga, and mātauranga Māori at the core.
“Solutions to the challenges we face will come from across the whole food system; they are not solely the responsibility of the Government or of food producers. If you have an interest in enhancing our food system’s outcomes, the eight initial Mana Kai actions enable you to see the role that you can play and how you can contribute,” says Rangimarie.
Recent COVID-19 disruptions have amplified existing issues. Rapid increases in the proportion of children living without enough healthy food, unsustainable rates of adult obesity, declining food affordability and poor freshwater quality are wakeup calls that our food system is failing to reflect our values and national aspirations.
“It is time for action, and we will get there through our connections to each other. Mana Kai is a foundation, and it is now up to each of us within the sector to build upon this foundation, developing solutions to the biggest challenges our food system is facing.”
A responsibility for us all
Essentially, the Mana Kai vision for our food system enables a movement of people and organisations working together for a common purpose. It provides a pathway for collaborative action with organisations that have aligned visions and aspirations.
Rangimarie challenges those across the food and fibre sector to take up the opportunities Mana Kai provides.
“How can the Mana Kai framework assist you to connect your projects with that of likeminded organisations? How can it help you by bringing alternative perspectives to the table, or by assisting in removing constraints to enable your initiative to scale up faster?
“We are all working towards our common goal of a food system that preserves mana while gaining long term sustenance for our planet and our people,” she says.
The Mana Kai Initiative stands as a beacon of collaboration, uniting sector experts to construct a nationwide food network that fosters a productive, inclusive, and sustainable food system here in Aotearoa New Zealand.
An emphasis on gaining a deep understanding of the inherent strengths and weaknesses within this food system opens the door to finding innovative solutions to some of the most pressing challenges confronting our nation today.