Inaugural Ahuwhenua Young Māori Grower, Maatutaera Akonga. Photo / Supplied
Maatutaera Akonga is the inaugural winner of the Ahuwhenua Young Māori Grower Award.
Akonga (26), who is of Ngāti Kahungungu, Ngāti Porou and Ngāi Tahu descent, was announced as the winner at the Ahuwhenua Trophy awards in Rotorua on Friday evening. He is a senior leading hand at Llewellyn Horticulture in Hastings.
"To be honoured with this award is huge," Akonga, who said he was humbled by the experience, told whānau gathered at the awards.
"This year's competition is not just a celebration but also the next gateway and opening to future young Māori horticulturalists to be recognised and celebrated like we should.
"I hope to see everyone in the future supporting the growth of our own people."
The other finalists in the competition were 24-year-old Brandon Cross of Tauranga who works as trainee orchard manager for kiwifruit orchard management company Seeka, and 25-year-old Finnisha Tuhiwai who is packhouse manager for Maungatapere Berries near Whangārei.
Watch the Ahuwhenua Young Māori Grower Award presentation at 1:21:00. Source / Ahuwhenua Trophy (Facebook).
Dr Charlotte Severne, the Māori Trustee and chief executive of Te Tumu Paeroa, presented Akonga with the winner’s trophy and congratulated him on his achievement.
"`To our finalists, you have articulated passion for horticulture through hard mahi, you have increased your knowledge in your businesses and the sector and you've become skilled practitioners. But most of all you have demonstrated distinction in an industry that is built on innovation and excellence."
All three finalist were presented with koru trophies and certificates by the sponsors of the award, Te Puni Kōkiri, Primary ITO, Te Tumu Paeroa and Horticulture New Zealand.
"Whānau these rangatahi are an inspiration. In the face of a global pandemic, they continued to forge a pathway for future Māori leaders in horticulture across Aotearoa," said Dr Severne.
Award judge Aaron Hunt from Te Tumu Paeroa said the standard of entrants in the inaugural competition for horticulture was very high and reflects the number of young Māori who are making successful careers in horticulture.