'Avenue for creating income for whanau' - East Cape Maori harvest trial hemp crop

An iwi-led organisation is hoping to boost the regional economy and create jobs for the Gisborne community as they begin to harvest hemp.

Hikurangi Enterprises were out harvesting their hemp crop yesterday, having been granted a licence to establish a trial plot. Source: Te Karere

Thirty years ago cannabis was driving a wedge through the small community of Ruatoria, near Gisborne, but today the plant could be a solution for the town that has struggled economically.

After securing a licence from the Ministry of Health last year, Hikurangi Enterprises has been growing a trial crop of hemp, a cannabis variety that's grown for its fibre rather than its psychoactive properties. 

The organisation invited community members to the secret location of the crop, to take part in yesterday's harvest and learn what all the hype is about.

"We are now keen to let the public see, smell, touch and smoke the plant so they can get a better understanding of its properties," said general manager, Panapa Ehau.

Due to the low THC level in hemp one person would have to smoke a joint "the size of a power pole" to get high from the crop, said the organisation.

This trial crop has been tested by the Institute of Environmental Science and Research, finding that the THC level is below 0.1 per cent, which complies with government regulations for industrial hemp production.

Hikurangi Enterprises have used the trial as an alternative way to use local whenua that's beneficial to the land, while also providing jobs for the community.

"This is a small crop, and it's literally about having conversations and korero with our whanau about how this could be used as an avenue for creating income for our whanau," said Mr Ehau.

Robin Thompson told Te Karere the plan was "to boost it [hemp] as a thing to create employment for our whanau on the coast, and get our growers back onto growing something that's legal and better that won't get them locked up."

Mr Ehau said with the possible decriminalisation of marijuana in the future they need to look at alternative industries in the region.

Industrial hemp can be used for foodstuffs, health products, textiles and as a housing solution.

"We need to be at the forefront to ensure we have a viable alternative that can earn even more money now and into the future."