"This land belonged to our people before me. I came back and I purchased it free-hold but it was never the intention to up and sell it. It was never an intent to purchase for profit. To me, this land is Māori land, Maori title," explains landowner, Eddie Matchitt, pictured here with his grandson, James. "I hope the next generation will value that too."
Perhaps that is also what gives the land so much meaning to him. "We are right out on the limb of NZ. A job and an industry that will last is a good thing for all of us," says Eddie. "People here have tried many different activities to try to make the land productive – from ostriches to pine trees. Right now the honey industry is booming for us." Eddie is particularly pleased to see the high level of professionalism and transparency brought into the industry by NZ Mānuka Group. He believes this sound base platform for doing business with integrity is what will stand them all in good stead if there were to be a downturn. "In the past, it was a bottle of wine and a bucket of honey that was left at the gate in return for the use of the land.
At the time we thought this was a kind gesture," says Eddie. "The change started to happen when one person came and offered $5 per hive to use their land, then another person came along and offered $10." It didn't take long for the landowners to realise that the Mānuka on their land was of value, and many started to wonder if they were getting a fair price for keeping this scrub plant on their land. Indeed Eddie is still concerned about the practices used by some beekeepers to bypass the process. "There are so many beekeepers that drop their hives without asking, and their bees are robbing our resources. They might put them on the other side of the fence but their bees are flying onto our Mānuka. They travel from all over New Zealand and use our Mānuka".
NZ Mānuka Group company founder, Phil Caskey, saw how badly the industry was being run in 2010. The honey industry was relying completely on the beekeepers yet the landowners, on whose properties the Mānuka plant is growing, received little to no return at all. "Phil was the main driver with his belief that the landowner was important and must have an advantage as well," confirms Eddie. "Phil was the main driver with his belief that the landowner was important and must have an advantage as well." Phil and Eddie met over a cup of coffee one day.
Phil expressed his concern that the landowners were not getting a fair return for the use of their land. Eddie is pleased to note that the deal they made that day is still in place today. "It is a long way from a bucket of honey at the farm gate. Now most of the big land blocks that I’m on receive an entry price of $50 per hive plus there is a top-up at the end of the year to bring us up to the 35% profit share with the beekeeper and NZ Manuka."
Eddie believes that the landowners who took up a partnership with NZ Mānuka are much better off. "Other companies are now coming in and offering higher percentages but there is no transparency. I now get three times more return from the same amount of hives." "It’s working for me," says Eddie. "I’m comfortable."