Off the Top of My Head
By Paul Murray
Buller Community Development Facilitator Peter Howard recently presented information at the Karamea Bowling Club about a proposal to establish a “social enterprise” in Karamea to bolster the local economy, create employment and improve returns to our agricultural sector.
The proposal to value-add local produce under a “Karamea” brand and sell the processed products to gourmet food markets in more affluent urban markets is supported by the Akina Foundation, EPIC Westport, the Grey District Council and Buller REAP. It came out of the recently conducted Tai Poutini West Coast Regional Growth Study by Wellington-based consulting firm Martin Jenkins and has caught the ear of the Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment (MBIE).
Karamea’s unique “ geographical island in a National Park” location provides the community with a distinctive point of difference that has been utilised in other locations to successfully establish locally branded products that capitalise on the uniqueness of their region to enhance the market potential of their products.
I grew up on Kangaroo Island in Australia. Farmers on the island had a problem. All the inputs to the farm–Fencing material, fertiliser, livestock, fuel, machinery etc,–had to be imported at significant cost. All produce from the farm had to be exported to mainland markets for sale, again this incurred an additional cost. As a result, Kangaroo Island farmers’ gross margins were significantly lower than mainland farmers producing a similar product.
In the late 1970s, a group of progressive-thinking farmers, including my father, got together to work out a means of addressing the problem. They considered the island had a unique comparative marketing advantage as a food-producing region and decided to produce a range of “Kangaroo Island” branded premium quality products that could be processed and value-added on the island for sale into high-end gourmet food markets on the mainland. Not everyone thought it was a good idea initially, but a few got on board and started off with simple products like vacuum-packed premium quality beef and lamb cuts, cheese, yoghurt, honey etc.
The initiative significantly reduced export costs as they were now exporting just the prime meat cuts rather than a whole animal and value-added products rather than raw produce. The quality focus enabled the establishment of the Kangaroo Island brand in the mind of the market as a premium quality product for which a premium price was paid.
Today, there are over 100 “Kangaroo Island” branded products and the project was a great success. Kangaroo Island farmers now enjoy a similar, if not better, return from their farm businesses than mainland farmers and the initiative has resulted in the creation of numerous new jobs in associated fields like food-processing, production, manufacturing, marketing, transport, packaging, designing etc., improved local infrastructure, increased the skill-sets of local people and generated profits that have been returned to the community to improve services, facilities and social equity.
The dynamic of Karamea district is very much like that of Kangaroo Island, and we have the same potential to overcome our challenges in a similar way and, in the process, increase local employment and create sustainable incomes for the people who live here.
As Karamea is also a popular tourist destination and will become more so as the Oparara Basin is developed into an “iconic West Coast attraction” like Punakaiki pancake rocks and the glaciers, there is a great opportunity to sell Karamea branded products to visitors to the region. Kangaroo Island producers found this to be a great opportunity as the island is also a tourist destination and visitors purchase a lot of Kangaroo Island products to take home with them, which proved to be a boon for the producers as there was no transport cost associated with such sales. In addition, tourism embraced the opportunity and visitors now take tours of the processing facilities, farms, purchase products directly from the manufacturers and associated merchandise bearing the Kangaroo Island brand.
The Karamea airport also provides the region with a great advantage as our value-added horticultural and agricultural; products could be back-loaded on planes bringing people to the region for holidays. Many planes are currently returning empty and there is an opportunity for us to access urban markets like Wellington and to increase efficiency and mitigate flight costs for airlines. Locally based flight services could also fly product to urban centres and return with passengers.
Karamea is seen as an excellent pilot location to test the development of this kind of social enterprise with the view to applying the concept to other regions and indeed the whole West Coast, which is also a unique and recognisably distinctive region of New Zealand.
The opportunity for the Karamea community is to establish a social enterprise with financial assistance and professional support to proudly promote our special region, add value to our raw produce by processing it here and selling it to people less fortunate, but with more money!