Indigenous | Environment

Bill reform aims to protect kaitakitanga relationships with plants

A University of Canterbury researcher is investigating how the current review of the Plant Variety Rights Act 1987 could be reformed to protect kaitiaki relationships with taonga plant species and mātauranga Māori more effectively.

Law faculty lecturer Dr David Jefferson says the Plant Variety Rights Act 1987 isn’t the first of its kind in Aotearoa, with the first one passing in 1973.

“The motivation for the proposal to reform the law is based on two factors. One is the need to comply with an international treaty.

“The second motivation is to give effect to the recommendations that the Waitangi Tribunal issued in response to the WAI 262 Flora and Fauna claim, which has been going on for many decades. One of the recommendations of the tribunal there was to provide some form of system to protect kaitiaki relationships with plants, as well as mātauranga Māori.”

The main way that the bill’s reform would make sure that kaitaki relationships with taonga plants and mātauranga Māori are protected is through the forming of the Māori plant varieties committee, which would review all plant variety applications.

Committee with 'teeth'

“Unlike other intellectual property walls in New Zealand, this Māori plant varieties committee would have binding effect so its decisions, its authority would have some teeth to it.”

Dr Jefferson says that although the bill doesn’t have a form of positive protection for mātauranga Māori, it does have a defensive right, “so any claim on taonga plant species will be rejected if they could interfere with mātauranga Māori”.

Asked how tino rangatiratanga and kaitiakitanga can improve relationships with ecosystems, Dr Jefferson says, “Apart from the obvious need to realise the promises of Te Tiriti o Waitangi, I think the value of incorporating these principles into the Plant Variety Rights Act into environmental policies is that these concepts recognise that we as humans have an obligation to care for and nurture the ecosystems in which we live.

“it’s a way of moving beyond the human-centric or the anthropocentric approach that a lot of our environments our policies currently have, which are based on resource use and exploitation.”