Maori macadamia industry tough nut to crack

A successful entrepreneur who runs her own insurance company – Life Broker Services in Gisborne – Vanessa is best known in Māori business circles as the Nut Lady on account of her macadamia interests. Together with her partner, Rod Husband, she owns a large organic orchard at Torere near Opotiki and a small de-husking plant operated by Rod in Gisborne.

Half of their current 7000 kg crop is sold in bulk as raw kernel, the remainder is made into a delicious range of products including the honey-roasted nuts, dukkahs, pesto and macadamia butters that Vanessa sells at the Gisborne farmers’ market.

The couple also owns the country’s largest macadamia nursery, a business Vanessa set up with hopes of establishing a grower co-operative and local nut industry for Māori landowners on the East Coast – a dream and a challenge that’s proving much harder to crack. Her story goes back some 25 years when, according to the wishes of a great uncle and after multiple hearings in the Māori Land Court, she became the sole owner of a piece of coastal land in her tribal area of Torere.

Independent ownership – unusual for Māori land – gave her the freedom to develop the property as she liked. For Vanessa that meant managing it in a sustainable way with a spray-free easy-care crop that would provide a decent return without damaging the pristine environment.

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Words: Anna Tait-Jamieson
Photos: Tessa Chrisp

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