Change in use of Māori land for primary production

  • Image, use of Māori land for primary production

    Land (whenua) is taonga tuku iho (cultural property, heritage) and of special importance to Māori. As the whakapūmautanga (legacy for the future), whenua provides for cultivation and storage of traditional foods and plants – for customary use and mahinga kai, and helps sustain each generation.

    We report only on the available data we have, which cover a subset of Māori land that was used for primary production activities. The activities we cover are main land use types (eg grassland, forest plantation, bush and scrub, and horticulture), and livestock numbers for main stock types (eg farmed beef and dairy cattle, sheep, and deer).

    The information is from Māori authorities identified as ‘farms engaged in primary production activities’ in the Agricultural Production Survey. In 2016, 450,593 hectares (ha) of Māori land were recorded in the survey as farms used for primary production. Nearly half the total was in grassland or pasture (217,933 ha), followed by forest plantation (110,393 ha), bush and scrub (75,351 ha), and horticulture (2,668 ha). Agriculture is estimated to account for around 1 in 5 Māori authority enterprises (Statistics NZ, 2016).

    The area of whenua owned or managed by Māori is much greater than the area used for primary production on Māori farms. Māori freehold land constituted around 5–6 percent (approximately 1.5 million ha) of the total area of Aotearoa/ New Zealand in 2013 (Kingi, 2013; Harmsworth & Awatere, 2013; Harmsworth & Mackay, 2010). This land includes a relatively high proportion of indigenous forest and hill country areas.

    We classified Change in use of Māori land for primary production as a case study.

    Key findings

    Trend not assessed

    Land use and the proportions of the main livestock on Māori farms changed between 2006 and 2016.

    • The forest plantation area on Māori farms increased 67.6 percent (from 65,864 ha in 2006 to 110,393 ha in 2016); the area in bush and scrub decreased 32.5 percent (from 111,710 ha to 75,351 ha).
    • The area in horticulture increased 65.1 percent (from 1,616 ha in 2006 to 2,668 ha in 2016).
    • There were 856,233 sheep on Māori farms in 2016, down 25.5 percent since 2006, when there were 1,149,895.
    • The number of dairy cattle increased 84.8 percent – up from 57,575 in 2006 to 106,380 in 2016.

    Figure 1

    Note: Forest includes forest plantings and areas awaiting restocking on farms, and separate exotic forestry blocks that are Māori owned. Other land not covered in the four main land use types includes: tussock and danthonia, arable land, conservation plantings, riverbeds, wetlands, and all other land on the farm not elsewhere included.

    Figure 2


    Definition and methodology

    We are measuring use of Māori land for primary production only. The data are from Māori authorities identified as farms in Stats NZ’s agricultural production censuses and surveys, conducted by Stats NZ with the Ministry for Primary Industries. Most Māori farms identified for the censuses and surveys are governed by Māori authorities.

    Māori farms are identified in the agricultural production censuses and surveys using Stats NZ’s framework, Tatauranga Umanga Māori (TUM) 2016. This is a wider approach than previously published agricultural production statistics for Federation of Māori Authorities (Stats NZ, 2012), and improves the coverage of Māori farms.

    Under TUM, Māori businesses are identified in the following ways:

    • The Stats NZ Business Register has a tax code for Māori authorities, which puts a Māori indicator on businesses (but does not capture all Māori business entities that own land or have at least 50 percent ownership).
    • Through NZ Māori Tourism, the Poutama Trust, and the Māori Land Court. It is estimated that only 330 Māori business entities (of 8,000 listed in the Māori Land Court) are included under TUM, so there is still a degree of under-coverage.

    In total, TUM identified approximately 36,000 Māori business entities, of which 381 were identified as farms in the 2016 Agricultural Production Survey.

    The TUM framework was first applied to the agricultural production surveys in 2016. It was used to backcast the number of Māori farms – to analyse changing land use practices on Māori-owned or managed land between 2006 and 2015. This analysis was partially repeated in 2016. Our analysis uses the lists of Māori farms created for TUM (2006–16), and applies the lists to weighted Agricultural Production Survey data.

    A farm for the purposes of agricultural production statistics is defined as one or more blocks of land, managed as a single operation, engaged in agricultural activities (including livestock farming, horticulture, viticulture, nurseries, forestry, growing grain and seed crops), and land that could be used for these purposes.

    The population for the Agricultural Production Survey is all businesses registered for goods and services tax (GST) and engaged in horticulture, cropping, livestock farming, or exotic forestry operations. It does not capture small or lifestyle farms. The threshold is $60,000 from 2010; between 2002 and 2010, it was $40,000. The Business Frame is a list of businesses in New Zealand, based on their registration for GST with Inland Revenue. The compulsory registration level for GST is $60,000, so there is a partial and unquantifiable coverage of units below this level. The GST threshold also applies to Māori businesses.

    The Agricultural Production Survey does not include all Māori freehold land, or non-primary production land use activities. For information on all Māori freehold land, and the range of land uses, see Hutchings et al, 2017.

    Data quality

    We classified Change in use of Māori land for primary production as a case study.


    Image, Partial relevance. This case study is a partial measure of the ‘Resource use and management and other human activities’ topic.


    Image, Medium accuracy. The accuracy of the data source is of medium quality.

    See Data quality information for more detail.


    Harmsworth, GR, & Awatere, S (2013). Indigenous Māori knowledge and perspectives of ecosystems, in JR Dymond (Ed), Ecosystem services in New Zealand. Lincoln, New Zealand: Manaaki Whenua Press.

    Harmsworth, G, & Mackay, A (2010). Land resource assessment and evaluation on Māori land. Whenua Sustainable Futures with Māori Land Conference. Rotorua, New Zealand, 21–23 July.

    Hutchings, J, Smith, J, Roskruge, N, Severne, C, Mika, J, & Panoho, J (2017). Enhancing Maori agribusiness through kaitiakitanga tools. (PDF, 637kb). Retrieved from

    Kingi, T (2013). Cultural bastions, farm optimisation, and tribal agriculture in Aotearoa (New Zealand) (PDF, 747kb). Conference Proceedings of the 22nd International Grassland Congress. Retrieved from

    Statistics New Zealand (2016). Tatauranga Umanga Māori 2016: Statistics on Māori businesses. Retrieved from

    Statistics New Zealand (2012). Agricultural production tables for Federation of Māori Authorities. Retrieved from

    Published 19 April 2018

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