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Concepts of soil health from a Māori perspective

Whakatauki: “Te toto o te tangata he kai, te oranga o te tangata, he whenua, he oneone – While food provides the blood in our veins, our health is drawn from the land and soils”

“What is missing around the kaitiaki of our soils is the deep understanding of the whakapapa of our soils” (Hema Wihongi interview by Kiri Reihana, 2017).

“Following is karakia, be thankful and pay respect to the mahi you are doing in this case the whenua, oneone, having scared regards for it sustaining your life and your reciprocating by giving life back to the whenua (land). Therefore the land is what sustains us “ka ū ki te ūkaipo” (Hema Wihongi interview by Kiri Reihana, 2017).

“Kaitiakitanga is about caring for the land. We inherit the whenua, the waterways, the moana, we don’t own it but our responsibility, our role to our people and to our whenua, is to care for it and to ensure its sustainability for future generations” (Wharekura o Maniapoto, Hōhepa Hei interview by Yvonne Taura, 2017).

When asked, “how important are soils to you?”, tauira (School students) responded with these enlightening responses (Wharekura o Maniapoto, Hōhepa Hei interview by Yvonne Taura, 2017):

Tangata Whenua
0% (kore) – 100% (hundy)
For the people to stand on
Soils clean the water, soils feed the plants
Healthy soil = FOOD, Unhealthy soil = NO FOOD!
We live off it, on it – We fought for it, live for it, with it – We would be dead without it!

  • Soil health is understood holistically from a cultural and science perspective (beliefs, whole ecosystem and interconnections – microbes to people
  • Understanding is based on Māori beliefs, philosophy, knowledge, values and perspectives
  • Inter-generational connections (whakapapa) between people, land and soils are integral
  • The mana gives authority for caring and looking after the land and the soil.  “…Te Mana o te Whenua, te mana o te oneone, te mauri o te oneone” “The mana of the land, the mana of the soil, enhances the mauri of the soil”
  • A spiritual dimension, or wairua, is a key dimension from a cultural perspective
  • The mauri or life force and energy of the land and soil is a key concept. There must be a focus and responsibility on maintaining the mauri or life force/energy/vitality of the soil ecosystem, to ensure human wellbeing
  • There is a long-term view of soil resilience (generational, “resilient soils, resilient people”) in line with understandings of Te Ao Tūroa.

Emerging definitions

“It is particularly important to enhance the mauri of the soil by enhancing its fertility, structure and biological activity” (Hua Parakore, Te Waka Kai Ora 2011b, p22).

“…The capacity of a soil as a living ecosystem to sustain and support all forms of life (to sustain microbes, plants, animals, humans and complex interconnections), through the maintenance of te mauri, to strengthen and enhance whakapapa, taonga tuku iho, mana, oranga, wairua, and whai rawa” (provisional Māori definition – June 2018 – developed from the MBIE soil health programme C09X1613).

“Capable of supporting, maintaining, and enhancing life and wellbeing” (from this soil health programme C09X1613).

“Soil health: “the optimal state and condition of soils to support an intended land use and sustained productivity level, and to ensure the optimal soil resource is in place for future generations” (Blair Waipara, land development manager, Tumu Paeroa)

“Papa Oranga ki a mātou so soils are important to me because they exemplify my health, my well-being, who I am - ko wai ahau, nō hea ahau, tōku whakapapa me ngā tikanga e pā ana ki tōku mana arā ka puta ko te kōrero mana whenua” (Maanu Paul interview by Kiri Reihana, 2017).

“For soil health you should use ‘papa oranga he aha ai? kia whakatōhia te mana o Papatūānuku ki roto i te whenua’, so I respect soil, it has mana more than that it has a mauri (Maanu Paul interview by Kiri Reihana, 2017).

“Whakapapa defines what a healthy soil is, it comes from our whakapapa, we define ourselves from our pepeha, our land. So whatever happens to the soil happens to me, when we are disenfranchised from our soil, our land, it also effects our physical and mental health”.... “The indicators and measures of soil health can be seen in the place names, the geographical whakapapa” (Hema Wihongi interview by Kiri Reihana, 2017).

“In all cases, healthy soils sustain healthy people” (MBIE programme wānanga 2018)

When asked, “what tohu would you use to measure soil health?”, the tauira (School students) responded with key concepts, such as (Wharekura o Maniapoto, Hōhepa Hei interview by Yvonne Taura, 2017):

Smells like soil
Birds, insects and worms
Dark soils = Healthy soils
Trees growing in the ground
Worms are good, snails are bad