Adapting principles from rongoā into ecologically and culturally sustainable farm practice

Project commenced:

This project examines rongoā (traditional Māori knowledge of medicinal plants) to find ways to improve animal health naturally, and overall, manage farms with respect for the land.

Principal Investigator Dr Marion Johnson was a farm manager in the UK when she received a scholarship to study environmental biology and returned to university. She later arrived back in New Zealand to complete a PhD on parasites of farmed red deer. For her post-doctoral research, she wanted to focus on sustainable agricultural practices.

“I thought, we need to get more plant diversity back on the farm, so as a farmer what would persuade me? If I had an economic incentive to plant I would be more likely to – plants with anti-parasitic properties would definitely encourage me.”

For this Ngā Pae o te Māramatanga project completed in 2012, Marion found good literature on human health, plants and Māori knowledge. But she wanted a working farm to be involved, believing that research needs to link to reality. She already had a contact from the Ngāi Tahu iwi, John Reid, and through him was introduced to Wairewa and Te Pūtahi farm. Wairewa were left Te Pūtahi, a 450ha sheep and beef farm in the Southern Bays of the Banks Peninsula, by Jim Wright in 2006 and were keen to be involved.

After consulting Gribbles Veterinary lab, local vets and farmers, Marion decided to concentrate on tonic plants and species that aid lactation, wound healing, scour and of course anti-parasitics. Her team have since been researching and developing lists of native plants that might successfully address these health issues. Compiled from literature and community discussions, the lists detail Banks Peninsula specific plants, as rongoā is particular to an area and every hapu has its own remedies. In addition each farm will have different requirements and growing conditions.  Rongoā is more than simply herbs for healing and encompasses connections to the land and whanau, as such farming using rongoā requires an ethic of good stewardship.

The project has developed to include other elements – because the farm wasn’t previously mapped, the team is charting the farm using geographic information systems (GIS). The maps show boundaries, fences, current vegetation and eroded areas and will allow visualisation of both planting schemes and how they could be managed. There is also a biodiversity component to the project, meshing rongoā plantings with species required to support native fauna. The community suggested the species that they would most like to see return, including ruru, tūī, kereru and jewelled gecko.

When she first started this project Marion thought rongoā only related to human health, not livestock, but she has discovered there are stories of Māori families using plants for animal treatment, stories of what didn’t work and plants to beware of are just as important as remedies.

“When chemical fertilisers and drenches were introduced in the 1940s, a lot of knowledge was lost in New Zealand about ways to farm naturally. We want to discover the knowledge that remains and introduce it back into modern farming systems. It’s the way agriculture is going – management with respect,” says Marion. “We need to record the traditional knowledge before it dies out with the older generations, and it’s encouraging to see younger generations are interested.”

Marion initially found it surprising that when talking to farmers about the research they were positive, and credits this to having a working farm involved. “I believe that research needs to link to reality.”

The team has plans in place for which species are to be planted, and the next stage is putting it into action. They are also looking at building a knowledge database for people to access, possibly online or on CD. They discussed the planting plans with the local community at a hui in June 2012, and Marion presented on the project at the International Indigenous Development Research Conference, the IFOAM Organic Animal Husbandry Conference in Germany in September and the Ecosummit in October in the USA.


Conference Presentations
Johnson M (2012) Using Te Rongoā (Maori traditional medicine) to encourage Biodiversity on farm. 4th International Ecosummit, Ecological Sustainability Restoring the Planets Ecosystem Services Columbus Ohio USA, 30 September - 05 October 2012
Johnson M (2012) Poster and presentation - Te Rongoā, Māori Traditional Medicine and Organic farming 2nd IFOAM/ISOFAR International Conference on Organic Animal Husbandry “ Tackling the future challenges of Organic Animal Husbandry” Hamburg Germany, 12-14 September 2012
Johnson M (2012) Creating an on farm pharmacy in a country with no strong ethnoveterinary tradition 13th International Congress of the Society for Ethnopharmacology in collaboration with the Society for Medicinal Plant and Natural Product Research and Eurasia Pacific Uninet  Graz Austria, 2-6 September 2012
Johnson M (2012) Adapting the principles of Te Rongoā into ecologically and culturally sustainable farm practice - a framework for farm management on Te Putahi  Nga Pae o te Māramatanga International Indigenous Development Research Conference, 27-30 June 2012
Johnson M (2011) Adapting the principles of Te Rongoā into ecologically and culturally sustainable farm practice. Me Rongo  1st Peace, Sustainability and Respect for the Sacred, Kopinga Marae Rēkohu (Chathams), 7-16 November 2011, Member of Kaitiakitanga Panel
Johnson M (2011) Incorporating the principles of Te Rongoā into farm management. First National Biological Farming Conference Rotorua, New Zealand, 27-28 October 2011
Samuel Coutts, Antoni Moore, Marion Johnson, Jeremiah Gbolagun and G. Brent Hall (2012). The application of fuzzy multi-criteria analysis for optimal siting of medicinal native vegetation, Geocart 2012 in Auckland, 29-31 August 2012.

Te Rongoā Research Presentations
Telford Farm Forestry Group 14 February 2011
AgITO February  24 February 2011
Plants @Otago 8 June 2011
Thailand Government delegation 29 July 2011
New CSAFE advisory board 16 November 2011
MSI board members 24 November 2011
Wildlife Conservation Society, Papua New Guinea delegation 27 November 2011
IRAP presentation of Te Rongoā project to NPM International board 21 June 2012

Johnson, M. (2012). Te rongoā. Proceedings of the International Indigenous Development Research Conference 2012, Auckland, New Zealand. Ngā Pae o te Māramatanga: New Zealand’s Indigenous Centre of Research Excellence.
Johnson M (2012) The contribution of Māori Traditional medicine to Animal health on Organic farms
Proceedings of the 2nd OAHC Hamburg /Trenthorst special Issue 362 Landbauforschung vTI Agriculture and Forestry Research 441-445
Johnson M (2011) Incorporating the principles of Te Rongoā into farm management. Proceedings of the 1st Biological Farming Systems National Conference

Te Putahi, research presentation to farm trustees, discussion of mapping exercise and vision.15 April 2012
Ngai Tahu Water management 18 May 2012
Wairewa Marae Little River wrap of Te Rongoā project and introduction of IA 16 June 2012
Te Arawa FOMA Hui cluster Rotorua 15 August 2012
Te Waihora management team Wigram Christchurch 29 August 2012


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