However, soil health and quality assessment in New Zealand currently uses a narrow science-based approach; largely analysing and reporting the soil chemistry and the physical properties of soil. This focus may be inadequate to assess long-term changes to soil health and resilience and additionally does not recognise cultural perspectives.
An MBIE Endeavour funded science programme, Soil health and resilience, led by Manaaki Whenua, is exploring how conventional knowledge of soil health can be made more meaningful and holistic by engaging with a diverse group of stakeholders that includes the Government, industry, landowners, and iwi/hapū. The programme is a collaboration with Plant & Food Research, AgResearch, the University of Waikato, the University of Auckland, and Auckland University of Technology.
The conventional science part of this programme has involved sampling and analysis of more than 150 different soil profiles across New Zealand. We are investigating how land use affects changes in soil carbon and soil chemistry and how those in turn affect other soil properties such as soil aggregation and microbial activity. In collaboration with the S-map Next Generation Endeavour-funded project, we are researching how a soil’s physical condition affects soil hydrology and soil function.
Recent work undertaken in the Waikato region has compared pasture and maize cropping on a range of soil orders. Different soils have different properties and intensification affects these soils differently. These studies will allow us to better measure land use intensification effects on different soils, particularly below the topsoil where soil health effects have typically not been measured.
The research programme also recognises Te Ao Māori perspectives and concepts of soil health – including the mana, mauri, whakapapa, wairua, and hau of soil. We are developing new mātauranga-based soil health frameworks, approaches, and indicators for use by a wide number of Māori organisations, iwi/hapū, and other agencies. This work will enable more effective and inclusive land management decisions to be made and will strengthen the expression of Māori values and principles supporting responsibilities such as kaitiakitanga.
The programme draws on a wide pool of knowledge that includes traditional, historic, and contemporary mātauranga Māori, building grassroots knowledge through approaches such as stakeholder engagement, workshops, industry participation, and interviews to augment the science knowledge. A large number of Māori individuals and organisations have participated throughout Aotearoa-New Zealand, including Māori researchers/ kairangahau, Māori knowledge experts in soils and gardening, iwi/hapū groups and authorities, Māori landowners, Māori industry groups, and schools/ kura.
“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 affects our physical and mental health... The indicators and measures of soil health can be seen in the place names, the geographical whakapapa."
Interview with Hema Wihongi (Kiri Reihana 2018)