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.
Photo courtesy of Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu
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.
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:
By way of example, īnanga, or whitebait, are an important mahinga kai species, both traditionally and contemporarily. Today they are valued by most people, not just Māori, and can live and spawn in all waterways, including farm drains. Much of their critical spawning habitat occurs along vegetated waterways, particularly near the coast and happens in autumn. This habitat is susceptible to disturbance and loss of vegetation cover, particularly from grazing animals and farm operations, which is why its protection is essential. Some of the steps you can take include simple fencing in the right places, and being aware of times of year that spawning occurs and adjusting farm practices in response.
Mahinga kai largely relate to indigenous plant, bird and fish species and their ecosystems and habitats. Below you can find out about some of the key species found in the Te Waihora / Lake Ellesmere catchment across different habitats:
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, and specifically within the Te Waihora catchment. 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 when implementing their Farm Environment Plans. This means you need to identify and understand mahinga kai values and risks on your farm, and respond to these risks when applying Industry-agreed Good Management Practices.
The management targets will not necessarily limit the way you use your land, but they do require you to manage the risks of farming on mahinga kai.
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 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. Like the rest of the region 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.
Environment Canterbury has appointed a cultural land management advisor to help farmers on land near Te Waihora/Lake Ellesmere understand and comply with new rules designed to protect mahinga kai – traditional Ngāi Tahu food resources and their ecosystems. Mananui Ramsden talked to Tony Benny.
If you need a land use consent to farm in the Selwyn Te Waihora catchment and any part of your property is within the Cultural Landscape Values Management Area (Lake Area or River Zone) you will be asked whether you agree to the following additional mahinga kai management objective and targets. You will be required to implement these 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.
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 accept this, your practices will be examined during your Farm Environment Plan audits. All farmers will be audited at regular intervals depending on the grades you receive.
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 FEP, or include in your FEP, ready for your audit.
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, please keep in mind the following when developing and implementing your Farm Environment Plan practices.
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 inputs of sediment, effluent and nutrients 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 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 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.
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.
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.
To minimise effects on drains, your drain management practices should be consistent with: Selwyn Waihora: A guide to managing your drains. View a copy here.
Drains are part of the network or waterways flowing into Te Waihora/Lake Ellesmere, and are particularly 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 in the CLVMA (Cultural Landscape/Values Management Area). Their management can also directly impact on how safe mahinga kai is for food gathering.
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 that are an integral part of the lake environment. 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. 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.
If you are in the Selwyn Te Waihora catchment and want help with identifying mahinga kai values on your farm, risk and practices advice is available from the catchment's Cultural Land Management Advisor. Ring (03) 353 9007 or toll free on 0800 324 636 to be put in touch.
Or, please contact Customer Services on (03) 353 9007 or toll free on 0800 324 636.