Monday, January 23, 2006

Ka mihi ki Pu Hao Rangi

A collaboration between Tahuri Whenua and Pu Hao Rangi Trust will see agronomy studies undertaken on old cultivars of kumara ('Sweet Potato'). Some of these old varieties are Pre-European, others are very early introductions by Europeans.

Dell fetched these back from Japan, where their value as Plant Genetic Resources was recognised when DSIR scientist Dr Douglas Yen was looking for a means to preserve them. The Māori kumara would have been lost were it not for the efforts of a Yen, who collected 617 kumara varieties from all over the world during the 1950s and 1960s. In 1963, when the collection became too big for the DSIR to maintain, Dr Yen arranged for its safekeeping in three gene banks in Japan. Interest in the collection was revived in 1988 at an ethnobotanical conference organised by the DSIR. Members of Pu Hao Rangi, a Manukau-based Māori Resource Centre, journeyed to Japan and brought back 9 New Zealand kumara varieties, 4 of which were identified as pre-European varieties. These are now cultivated by several Māori groups.

On the one hand, the efforts of Dell and others is yet another example of what I call Maori eco-cultural resilience. Also an expression of Maori actively seeking re-engagement with contemporary agri-food networks.

* Check this pdf of a Waitangi Report piece for some backround.
* Graham Harris of the Open Polytech has collected some great stuff here

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Simon Lambert

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