Do you have freshwater crayfish in your drain? Lizards in your flax? Whitebait in your creek?

There is a term for these treasures and the habitats that support them – in Māori, it is mahinga kai.

Mahinga kai is about the value of natural resources – our birds, plants, fish, and other animals and resources that sustain life, including the life of people.

For Ngāi Tahu, it is critical to manage these resources to allow people to continue gathering kai (food) in the way the ancestors did, and about mana and manaakitanga - the ability to welcome and host visitors by providing bountiful produce, as a demonstration of hospitality and respect.  These things are the essence of kaitiakitanga, or what many people today call guardianship.

This practice remains a foundation of Ngāi Tahu values today, although it has become increasingly difficult as sites, species, and habitats are lost, degraded, or compromised.

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Photo courtesy of Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu

Why is it important today?

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Te toto o te tangata, he kai; te oranga o te tangata, he whenua

Food supplies the blood of the people; their welfare depends on the land

 

These days, farmers and landowners are also custodians of the land and the resources they contain. For many, an affinity for land and resources ensures that they now assume responsibility for protection of mahinga kai, as Ngāi Tahu tūpuna or ancestors did before them.

Farmers’ reasons for doing so are not that different – there is something special about providing the best environment for these treasures and watching them do well.

Mahinga kai literally means 'to work the food' – which is basically what farmers do – just often with domesticated plants and animals versus their wild cousins.

Mahinga kai relates to the traditional value of food resources and their ecosystems, as well as the practices involved in producing, procuring, and protecting these resources.  Mahinga kai is about more than just survival for Ngāi Tahu, it is about thriving and maintaining those things that sustain and nourish us, and that bring us well-being – clean water, clean air, clean soil, and sufficient shelter.  Access to and being able to gather clean and healthy kai as our ancestors did, and doing this in a sustainable way, considering our future generations is also important.

Watch the video at www.ngaitahu.iwi.nz/culture/mahinga-kai (10 minutes long) to help understand the ongoing importance of mahinga kai to Ngāi Tahu people.

What is mahinga kai?

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Ka hāhā te tuna ki te roto; ka hāhā te reo ke te kaika; ka hāhā te takata ki te whenua

If there is no tuna (eels) in the lake; there will be no language or culture resounding in the home; and no people on the land; however, if there are tuna in the lake; language and culture will thrive; and the people will live proudly on the land - Nā Charisma Rangipuna i tuhi

 

Mahinga kai areas are likely to be those special areas of your property that you are already actively taking care of for their environmental or biodiversity significance - but it could also be for things that you were not aware of - the small and little things.

Because it refers to numerous species and inter-relationships rather than something specific, there is no one list of exactly what is and isn’t mahinga kai for any given property.  Mahinga kai includes things such as species, natural habitats, materials and practices used for harvesting food, and places where food or resources are, or were, gathered. This includes:

  • All waterways, drains (with water), wetlands, and springs
  • Native vegetation and riparian areas
  • Areas with specific mahinga kai species and their habitats.

Mahinga kai species largely relate to indigenous plant, bird and fish species and their ecosystems and habitats. Below you can find out about mahinga kai species that are found in and around Selwyn Te Waihora (Lake Ellesmere) catchment, including those associated with lowland streams, drains, wetlands and on farms.  Many of these can also be found right across the region.

Whose responsibility is mahinga kai protection?

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Toitū te marae o Tāne; toitū te marae Tangaroa; toitū te iwi

If the forests of Tāne are protected; and the oceans of Tangaroa are protected; so too are the people.

 

Everyone has a part to play in protecting and enhancing mahinga kai, although as the current guardians of the land where mahinga kai species live, there are clear responsibilities on land owners.

While the active protection of mahinga kai is a key foundation of the Treaty of Waitangi, as well as being critical in regulations and policies, it is also simply part of wider environmental stewardship or kaitiakitanga.  Some species are formally protected by the Wildlife or Conservation Act, while others are locally, regionally or nationally significant, rare, threatened, endangered, or indeed extinct.  Looking after mahinga kai sits alongside ecosystem health and biodiversity as an essential environmental objective in our region.  Importantly, protection and enhancement of mahinga kai also provides for the well-being of people, and their ongoing identity.

Across the region farmers are also now required to achieve a mahinga kai target or objectives when implementing their Farm Environment Plans. This requires you to understand and identify mahinga kai values on your farm and manage risks using good management practices. 

Farmer responsibilities in the Selwyn Te Waihora Cultural Landscape Values Management Area

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Ko ngā hau ki ētahi wāhi; ko ngā kai kei Ōrariki

No matter which way the wind blows; one can always procure food at Ōrariki, Taumutu

 

For generations, Te Waihora/Lake Ellesmere, and its associated wetlands, springs and tributaries, have been an abundant food basket of local Ngāi Tahu - something that remains to this day.  The ability of the lake to provide food and resources for the people living around the lake continues to be important, not just for Ngāi Tahu, but for everyone. The lake is internationally recognised for its wetland values, as well as having national significance for its mahinga kai, particularly its customary indigenous fishery.  It is also an important commercial fishery for both tuna (eel) and pātiki (flounder).  Sadly, however, today Te Waihora is also one of New Zealand's most degraded lakes, while its tributary waterways also often don't meet both national and regional requirements for water quality.

If any part of your property is within the Cultural Landscape Values Management Area (Lake Area or River Zone) you will be required to implement the following objective and targets alongside your existing Farm Environment Plan (FEP) objectives and targets.

Objective: To protect mahinga kai and manage waterways and drains recognising their cultural and ecological sensitivity to discharges of contaminants.

Targets:

  1. Mahinga kai values are protected by implementing all other Farm Environment Plan Objectives and Targets taking mahinga kai values into account.
  2. Mahinga kai species and habitats are protected when waterway (including drain) management and vegetation clearance occurs.
  3. Mahinga kai habitats and species are sustained through management of remnant native vegetation and wetlands.
  4. Properties within Selwyn District Council Drainage Scheme comply with any District Council Discharge of Land Drainage Water resource consent.

If you are farming in this area, there is now more to think about, although it is acknowledged that many farmers are already on the right track.  You’ll now need to be aware of the mahinga kai values and risks on your farm, and address these when you apply Industry-agreed Good Management Practices.  You will also need to be more aware of how your drains are being managed, and cleaned, and proactively look at how you can enhance biodiversity values on your farm over time. Doing so will ensure that your farming activities meet today’s community expectations around good management practice, while also protecting mahinga kai values, and sustainability for generations to come.

To help you implement this objective and targets a guide is available here.

Use the checklist in the guide to identify the practices and actions you’ll need in place – and keep it alongside your existing FEP or include in your FEP as developed.

Farmer responsibilities in the Waitaki Catchment

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The importance of the Waitaki area to Ngāi Tahu was acknowledged by the Crown through the Ngāi Tahu Claims Settlement Act (1998) which identifies Aoraki/Mount Cook and eight waterbodies within the Waitaki Sub-region as Statutory Acknowledgements. Mahinga kai values are present in surface waterbodies throughout the Waitaki catchment.

If your property is within the Waitaki Catchment you will be required to implement the following objective and targets alongside your existing Farm Environment Plan (FEP) objectives and targets.

 

Objective: To protect Mahinga Kai values

Target:

1. Mahinga Kai values of surface waterbodies on the property are recognised by achieving other objectives and targets in the FEP, and in addition by:

a. Maintaining existing indigenous vegetation in accordance with the relevant regional

and district council rules or any granted resource consent;

b. Identifying opportunities to undertake additional plantings of indigenous vegetation

and on any additional plantings of indigenous riparian vegetation; and

c. Managing pest plants in accordance with regional council rules

 

If you are farming in this area, there is now more to think about, although it is acknowledged that many farmers are already on the right track.  You’ll now need to be aware of the mahinga kai values and risks on your farm, and address these when you apply Industry-agreed Good Management Practices.  You will also need to be more aware of how your drains are being managed, and cleaned, and proactively look at how you can enhance biodiversity values on your farm over time. Doing so will ensure that your farming activities meet today’s community expectations around good management practice, while also protecting mahinga kai values, and sustainability for generations to come.

Farmer responsibilities across the rest of the region

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If you require a land use consent to farm under the Canterbury Land and Water Regional Plan there is now more to think about.

You are now required to address and implement the following target alongside your existing Farm Environment Plan (FEP) objectives and targets.

Target: Mahinga kai values are protected as a result of measures taken to protect and enhance water quality and stream health.

It is acknowledged that many farmers will already be on the right track.  But you will now also need to be aware of the mahinga kai values and risks on your farm, and address these when you apply Industry-agreed Good Management Practices.  You will also need to be more aware of how your drains are being managed, and cleaned, and proactively look at how you can enhance mahinga kai and biodiversity values on your farm over time. Doing so will ensure that your farming activities meet today’s community expectations around good management practice, while also protecting mahinga kai values, and sustainability for generations to come.

To help you implement this target a regional factsheet is available. Use this checklist to help you identify the practices and actions you’ll need in place – and keep it alongside your existing FEP or include with your FEP as its developed.

 

How do I manage risks on mahinga kai values when carrying out good management practice?

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If you are implementing Industry-agreed Good Management Practices you will already be starting to manage effects on water quality and helping to protect mahinga kai.  The industry-agreed Good Management Practices are available at www.canterburywater.farm/gmp

However, you now need to also think about implementing these practices so you address risks on mahinga kai values.

 

Nutrient management

Mahinga kai habitat and species are sensitive to nutrient inputs. Nitrogen and phosphorus losses to waterways can cause undesirable plant or algal growth, degrade habitat, and create risk for human consumption of mahinga kai species.

The proximity of land-use to sensitive environments like rivers, lakes and wetlands, as well as drains is important to manage, while high groundwater levels, and flood prone areas can increase the risk of overland flow of nutrients into water, as well as leaching as a result of oversaturation of soils.

Intensive winter grazing can result in increased risk of sediment, effluent and nutrients entering into lakes, rivers, streams and drains.  This can in turn impact on mahinga kai habitat, species, and sites, and the ability of people to access, gather, and eat mahinga kai safely.

 

Collected effluent management

The discharge of stock effluent to land or waterways can impact on water quality, and therefore river, lake and wetland health, mahinga kai habitat, species and sites.

The presence of effluent in lakes, streams and wetlands is also inconsistent with the use of these environments and their associated species for food gathering. 

 

Waterbody management (including drains, springs and wetlands)

Riparian and wetland areas provide buffering, shade and habitat for mahinga kai species, and can help protect water quality by reducing and absorbing overland flow of nutrients and sediment.

Good stewardship over waterways, springs, lakes and wetlands is key to managing the health of mahinga kai values.

Drains are part of the network of waterways and are particularly important for indigenous fish species.  The drains are required to drain land, but also function as mahinga kai habitat.  Most drains were once natural waterways or former wetland areas that supported mahinga kai species.

Because they drain land, drains can be a receiving environment for nutrient, effluent and sediment run off as well as a contributor to the health of downstream receiving environments.  Drain cleaning to maintain drainage functions can impact on mahinga kai values, by causing fish stranding and death, as well as increased downstream sedimentation. How drains are managed has a direct impact on water quality, lake and river health and mahinga kai habitat. The management of drains can also directly impact on how safe mahinga kai is for food gathering.

Wetlands and their associated springs are highly valued by Ngāi Tahu as they can contain the most diverse range of mahinga kai species and abundance.  Wetlands also function to protect water quality of the rivers and lakes, by buffering and filtering the effects of land use before it reaches these environments.  Protecting remnant wetlands as well as developing new or constructed wetlands to help mitigate and/or treat land-use impacts is a key method in protecting and enhancing mahinga kai values.

 

Vegetation Clearance

Vegetation clearance for farm expansion, drain cleaning, or other land use can lead to the loss of indigenous and mahinga kai plants, birds, fish, as well as habitats that are an integral part of the lake environment and ecosystem.

Vegetation clearance can also contribute to soil erosion, and sediment and chemical inputs to waterways or the lake, impacting on water quality and mahinga kai habitat.

Indigenous plant and animal communities and their habitats are essential to the mahinga kai value. Managing the effects of land use on biodiversity is required to enable lakes and rivers to support a healthy diversity and abundance of mahinga kai species.

Wetlands are highly valued by Ngāi Tahu. Wetlands also function to protect water quality of the rivers and lakes, by filtering the effects of land use before it reaches these environments. 

 

Irrigation management

Mahinga kai habitat, species and sites are dependent on sufficient water quality and quantity. Irrigation, particularly inefficient irrigation systems, can reduce flows in spring fed waterways, such as those around Te Waihora, which reduces the available habitat for fish species, and can also result in ponding, run off, and leaching of contaminants into surface water.  

 

Soil management

Maintaining or improving the conditions of soils to avoid the movement of sediment, phosphorus and other contaminants into water protects lake health and mahinga kai habitat and species. 

 

Point source management

Water quality can be degraded as a result of leaching or run off from poorly designed or located silage, rubbish or offal pits, and this impacts on mahinga kai habitat, sites and species.

Managing your drains

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Drains are part of the network or waterways important for fish species.  Drains are required to drain land, but also functions as mahinga kai habitat.  Most drains were once natural waterways or former wetland areas.

Because they drain land, drains can be a receiving environment for nutrient, effluent, and sediment runoff, as well as a contributor to the health of downstream receiving environments.  Drain cleaning to maintain drainage functions can impact on mahinga kai values, by causing fish stranding and death, as well as increased downstream sedimentation.  How drains are managed has a direct impact on water quality, lake health and mahinga kai habitat.  Their management can also directly impact on how safe mahinga kai is for food gathering. 

To minimise effects on drains, your drain management practices should be consistent with the Good Drain Management Practices Guide.

Enhancing mahinga kai and biodiversity values on farm

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Vegetation clearance for farm expansion, drain cleaning, or other land use can lead to the loss of indigenous and mahinga kai plants, birds, and fish, and habitats.  Vegetation clearance can also contribute to soil erosion, and sediment and chemical inputs to waterways or the lake, impacting on water quality and mahinga kai habitat.

Wetlands, and their associated springs, are highly valued by Ngāi Tahu as they can contain the most diverse range of mahinga kai species and abundance.  Wetlands also function to protect water quality of rivers and lakes by buffering and filtering the effects of land use before it reaches these environments.  

Actions to enhance mahinga kai and biodiversity values on farm may include:

  • Protecting natural wetlands and springs from stock and farm activities.
  • Protecting areas of remnant native vegetation and habitat, particularly trees and shrubs, as well as any riparian, wetland and/or forest vegetation.
  • Maintain sufficient riparian buffers alongside waterways (including drains), wetlands, lakes and springs to manage risks on mahinga kai species
  • Use native vegetation to restore areas of vegetation disturbance and to stabilise the banks and control erosion.
  • Consider developing new or constructed wetland areas to treat and filter runoff, absorb nutrients and trap sediment, and to provide habitat for mahinga kai species as well as a buffer between land use and waterways.

For more information see Managing Waterways on Canterbury Farms. View a copy here.

How can I get help?

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Environment Canterbury now has Cultural Land Management Advisors available in north Canterbury (covering Kaikoura to Waimakariri) and central Canterbury (covering Selwyn Te Waihora catchment Christchurch West Melton and Banks Peninsula) and a will shortly have an advisor in South Canterbury (covering Rakaia through to Waitaki).

Their role is to help farmers understand and comply with new requirements to protect mahinga kai – traditional Ngāi Tahu food resources and their ecosystems.

Below Mananui Ramsden talks to Tony Benny below about the Cultural Land Management Advisor role and working with farmers in the Selwyn Te Waihora Cultural Landscape Values Management Area.

 

 

If you want help with identifying mahinga kai values on your farm, risk and practices advice is available from one of the regions Cultural Land Management Advisors. Ring Customer Services on (03) 353 9007 or toll free on 0800 324 636 to be put in touch.