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  • Writer's picturePatrick Dawkins

Honey Levy Back on the Table

“Ambitious”, “bold” and “challenging” was how Apiculture New Zealand’s Honey Strategy 2024-2030 was described by those presenting it on the ground floor of ‘The Beehive’ in Wellington on February 20. The strategy suggests three pillars for success; Sustainability, Quality-Led and Customer Focus, and to get there a levy on mānuka honey exports and potentially a new industry body will be advanced for further scrutiny.

Running to 20 pages, Apiculture New Zealand’s new strategy for the honey industry is nearly two-years in the making and, at its heart, proposes the need for a levy on mānuka honey exports and a new “empowered” peak industry body.

The beekeepers of New Zealand were resounding in their rejection of a proposed 10c a kilogram levy on honey produced when Apiculture New Zealand (ApiNZ) last officially floated such an idea in 2018-19, with 76% of apiarists with 26 hives or more against the idea. Now discussions on how to formulate a new levy, this time on mānuka honey only and paid by exporters, will take place in 2024, before potentially again going to a beekeeper vote.

“As an industry we have matured and progressed,” ApiNZ chief executive Karin Kos said when presenting the 20 page Thriving Together: Futureproofing New Zealand Apiculture strategy to an audience of around 40 industry stakeholders, including MPs, Ministry for Primary Industry (MPI) personal, honey exporters and even a few beekeepers.

“We have a lot to do though. We are still fractured in our voice. It’s frustrating and it holds us back. Equally, the biggest thing for us is we don’t have the funding mechanisms other primary sectors have.”

The strategy document was written following consultation with various sectors of the apiculture industry following $225,000 of funding through MPI’s Sustainable Food and Fibres Future Fund and industry co investment of $158,500 from ApiNZ, Honey Industry Trust, Comvita and Mānuka Health. The project was initially scheduled for 14 months, from March 2022 and consultation with beekeepers largely took place that year, while consultations with other industry stakeholders has taken place since.

Among those supporting the strategy are, most notably, MPI and the Unique Mānuka Factor Honey Association (UMFHA), whose membership includes many mānuka honey exporters. Minster for Agriculture Todd McClay was present at the Strategy announcement.

“It reflects the combination of 18 months of diligent and hard work, but also a collective vision of an industry that is so important to New Zealand’s economy and identity,” the Minister said of the strategy.

He made it clear that the Strategy’s goal of doubling New Zealand’s honey export value, which was about $400million in 2023, “is an ambitious target that is going to be very challenging to do”.

“Achieving the growth potential of the New Zealand honey industry and overcoming some of the historical challenges faced requires a collective effort and joint support. By standing together, industry and government can forge a strong and sustainable pathway that delivers sustainable benefits to all,” McClay said.

The strategy proposes “legislative changes” to assist in the development of a “Horticulture Export Authority-type model” (described in more detail in What is the Horticulture Export Authority?). This is where mānuka honey exports could face not only a levy, but also stricter export standards.

Therefore, when the Minister labelled UMFHA the “Unique Money Association”, his words were equally as fitting as his hasty correction to replace “money” with “mānuka”.

“This strategy has a clear focus on mānuka honey,” Kos told those at the Strategy launch.

“We are not dismissing the rest of the honeys, but as we know it drives 84% of all industry revenue and 91% of our honey exports. It makes economic sense for us to get that right and consolidate and grow mānuka honey. That will put us in a better position to secure success for the rest of our honeys as well.”

The strategy puts a “strong industry voice” forward as an “essential” enabler of the overall strategy, and states that the current voluntary participation model of industry representation provides “no ability for the industry to speak to, or for itself collectively”.

“This is a point in time to start afresh and really look at our leadership and governance. We need government support and we need all the industry to work with us. We won’t always get it right, but we are encouraged by the support to get it to this stage,” Kos says.

ApiNZ chair Nathan Guy presents The New Zealand Honey Strategy 2024-2030, Thriving Together: Futureproofing New Zealand Apiculture, at ‘The Beehive’ in Wellington and labels it a “living” document and a “starting point to further discussion”.

However, the strategy was quick to be admonished by fellow industry body New Zealand Beekeeping Inc (NZBI), who were among those leading the pushback against a honey levy in 2018-19. NZBI has labelled ApiNZ’s strategy “dead on arrival” and president and Waikato beekeeper Jane Lorimer says it “needs to be taken out to sea and sunk”. While the strategy doesn’t specifically call for more than the mānuka honey export levy, NZBI have concerns it could open up the potential for up to four levies on beekeepers.

Of particular concern to NZBI is a proposal in the strategy where the current National Pest Management Plan which covers American foulbrood could be evolved “to cover varroa reporting and mandatory management protocols”. It also calls for strengthening of the industry’s biosecurity framework, including the introduction of a Government Industry Agreement on biosecurity.

Lorimer says they saw the strategy only a week before it was publicly announced in Wellington and, after almost two years in the making, they would have liked more input in the later stages.

At the announcement ApiNZ chair Nathan Guy was clear in pointing out that the strategy was a first step.

Agriculture Minister Todd McClay supported the Honey Strategy, which was funded in majority by MPI, and brought some reality to its goal of doubling export value by 2030 when he dubbed it “ambitious” and challenging”.

“This strategy is a living document, it is ambitious and we may not have everything right for everyone, but it is certainly a starting point to further the discussion, to work with industry on the future and constructively engage with government,” Guy said.

On that note, UMFHA chair Rob Chemaly also addressed those gathered at the country’s biggest ‘beehive’ to stress the importance of the actions that follow the strategy, over and above its ambitions.

“Strategy in my world is about execution of the ambition. There is still a lot to be done to deliver what this document is asking us to do,” Chemaly said.

“It aligns very, very well with the purpose of our organisation. That is to protect and enable the sustainable growth of mānuka honey around the world. We do that by putting in place a system that inspires consumer confidence around the quality and authenticity of mānuka honey in the market place.”

Mānuka Charitable Trust (MCT) chair Pita Tipene also took to the lectern and echoed some of Chemaly’s sentiment, stating “the actions are going to be the important part. That is not to take away from the vision and the mission though.”

The Trust has been tasked with protecting the term ‘mānuka honey’ through trademarking and geographic indicators, and has received funding from government and the mānuka honey industry to this point. The Strategy puts “developing a mātauranga Māori mānuka story in partnership with MCT” as a priority action. This, it states, will protect against exporters undermining a collective industry position and it will set a precedent for other indigenous New Zealand honeys to follow.

That is an area where MCT and Tipene, who is also chairman of the Waitangi National Trust, have thrown support.

“Working with the others in this room on this strategy really emphasised what is at the core of Te Tiriti o Waitangi, be it the principles or actual words, it’s the relationships between organisations and also personal relationships. Those have gone a long way towards working together and putting this strategy in front of us,” Tipene told the gathering.

Identifying an appropriate “legislative route” to introduce a domestic standard for mānuka honey is another of the strategy’s proposals, with the current standard set by MPI in 2018 only applicable to exported honey.

“The boon times have come and I wouldn’t say they have gone, because we have set a target of doubling the value of exports by 2030,” Guy said.

“There is significant potential, particularly with mānuka, but that is going to require collaboration.”

The show of strength from various industry groups in Wellington provided a level of that collaboration. However, funding the ambitions of Thriving Together: Futureproofing New Zealand Apiculture begins now with work on a more detailed mānuka honey levy proposal which will extend, or end, depending on how it is received by beekeepers.


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