Mānuka (Leptospermum scoparium), a taonga (treasured) species and is included in the Waitangi Tribunal report on Māori rights over native flora and fauna, is the indigenous plant that contributes most to the New Zealand economy due to the value of mānuka honey.
The commercial value of mānuka and the rapid growth in the mānuka honey industry has resulted in significant scientific and commercial interest in the species.
Several years ago Plant & Food Research undertook to make the significant investment into sequencing the mānuka genome. This was intended to provide a resource that could be used in future projects on mānuka that would be undertaken in line with the Plant & Food Research policy that research on indigenous species must provide benefit to Māori.
Three Plant & Food Research senior scientists who have contributed as authors to papers in the New Zealand Journal of Crop & Horticultural Science special issue on mānuka have prepared a paper which offers a western science perspective on working with a taonga species and the lessons learned that can guide similar future projects.
One example is that Pākehā concepts of ownership would provide licence to use the mānuka plant chosen for the research, but the authors acknowledge that those tests of ownership would not adequately acknowledge Māori concepts of kaitiakitanga (guardianship) over indigenous flora.
Based on their learning from this research, the authors discuss some considerations for best practice for future research on taonga species. This includes allowing research to be guided by Māori cultural values, concepts and practices from the outset.
This calls for early engagement with Māori in the co-design and co-management of research projects, including discussions around risks and benefits as well as prior agreement on the use, and discussion of the implications, of any new knowledge generated through the research.
As an example, genomics data generated from taonga species should not be open access, but (based on Māori consensus) should be stored in a dedicated long-term repository for genomic data of taonga species (such as Genomics Aotearoa).