Environment Canterbury

Mahinga Kai benchmark research


A new requirement of Farm Environment Plans is for farmers to identify and understand mahinga kai values and risks on their land. Farm practices will be audited against these requirements.

Environment Canterbury (Ecan) have had a dedicated focus since early 2017 to educate farmers in the Selwyn Waihora zone about mahinga kai values and why they matter (Via a dedicated Cultural Land Management Advisor who has been out in the fields and talking to farmers to educate and inform farmers of the importance of mahinga kai values). Plans are now in place to extend this advisory role to other zones in the region.

To monitor the progress and success of this initiative, this research was commissioned among the regions farmers and land owners to establish benchmark levels of:

1.            Comprehension of mahinga kai;

2.            Attitudes to mahinga kai responsibilities;

3.            Information requirements.

Research Method

Telephone surveys were undertaken with the regions farmers over a 3 week period.

Targets were in place to allow us to benchmark each of the water zones both a) ahead of targeted activity and b) in comparison to Selwyn where work has already begun.

c.100 interviews were undertaken in Kaikoura/Hurunui Waiau zone, Ashburton zone, Orari-Temuka-Opihi-Pareora zone and the Selwyn-Waihora zone.

Environment Canterbury, Farmers, and Maori groups historically have many tensions between them. To minimize these tensions in ‘the field’, the Cultural Land Management Advisor briefed the whole interview team to ensure the meaning and significance of mahinga kai was understood to ensure our interviewers were well briefed and prepared for any reactions to the topic. While it was only a minority, some interviewers did come across farmers who expressed anger towards ECan, overt racism and subtle discomfort to dealing with a Maori subject that many are not familiar with. The ECan call centre were aware this project was happening in case they also fielded calls verifying the project. The up-front briefing helped to prepare the interview team for some of these reactions.


This monitoring research is one of three workstreams (as well as training and audit systems/processes) that Environment Canterbury have set up as part of a joint work program to develop a Regional Implementation Package.

Research insights were reported and presented to the Te Paiherenga presentation September 2018, and annual reporting will take place to measure the progress of the implementation.

This research identified that:

  1. There is limited awareness across the region about Mahinga kai. It is slightly higher in the Selwyn Waihora zone but still very ‘new’ with limited depth of understanding about it.
  2. Mahinga kai and farming values are well aligned, but need careful communication due to the tensions between farmers, Ecan and maori. Farmers are also stressed about other farming issues, so to encourage behavior change will require some understanding of farmers current situations
  3. Further sustained resource is required to boost knowledge – both from Ecan but also via partnering with other relevant organisations e.g. local council or farming industry groups).