A new generation of scientists is in training to take an innovative approach to academic research in bioprotection.
Launched in 2021, Bioprotection Aotearoa, a National Centre of Research Excellence (CoRE), said it is committed to training the next generation of bioprotection leaders to deliver pioneering multidisciplinary research that addresses the environmental challenges facing New Zealand.
Early-career researchers are being encouraged to step away from a siloed approach and instead draw from the collective of academic strengths to value diversity of knowledge systems, including matauranga Māori, to extend scientific knowledge.
Bioprotection Aotearoa board member Jessie Chan said the new direction is important to improve future decision making.
“We need to create knowledge locally that potentially agribusiness can harness and together with communities can make better decisions.
“Looking at the world around us, we need to change what we do and how we do it. This is core of our research to get a wider view of how we use our whenua better – that’s better for everybody and helps us address future challenges,” Chan said.
“We can’t keep doing it the way we are.”
Bioprotection Aotearoa research has evolved into an ecosystem lens rather than a focus on pest and weeds.
“It contributes to better equip us for challenges and insights, applying to productive landscapes, nurturing capabilities, resilience and protection going forward,” Chan said.
Through the provision of teaching and learning, early-career researchers build their skills and capabilities to deliver multidisciplinary research that supports a holistic, system-level approach that protects productive and natural landscapes from pathogens, pest and weeds in a warming climate.
“When principles behind resilience are put together across soil, plants and people, a system of connectivity between these components emerges.
“This knowledge supports people at a governance level to make decisions that are fit for purpose to support an intergenerational model of resilience.”
Hosted by Lincoln University, the centre is a collaborative partnership between the University of Auckland, Waikato University, Massey, Victoria University of Wellington, Canterbury, and Otago University; and Crown Research Institutes AgResearch, Plant and Food Research, Scion and Manaaki Whenua-Landcare Research.
Research projects are guided by Te Taiao-a-rangi, a framework that incorporates Te Ao Māori and science.
Four research themes give direction for Bioprotection Aotearoa to operate with a holistic and long-term view of generational environmental sustainability.
Rather than responding to the risk of incursions on a case-by-case basis, Bioprotection Aotearoa uses a model to promote healthy people and healthy whenua, contributing to improve environmental, economic and social outcomes for future generations.
Bioprotection Aotearoa currently has 20 projects underway across its four research themes.
Te Kaha, a small coastal town located in the Eastern Bay of Plenty, is one of three focus regions of scientific research.
Director and research professor Amanda Black said Te Kaha is a scientifically valuable site because of the variety of land use, which includes maize and kiwifruit sites that is patchworked across the landscape.
“This offers opportunities to learn about resilient landscapes due to the diversification and mosaic land uses.”
Currently three projects are underway using Te Kaha as their field site for testing, with plans for further projects in development, Black said.
“Collectively they build a treasury of localised knowledge to understand the risk of pathogens transferred around the landscape and then identify mechanisms that confer resistance against pathogen sources in the landscape.”
Māori agribusiness Te Kaha Group is a collective of six Ahuwhenua trusts, working together to oversee the management of the six blocks where they predominantly farm the Gold variety of kiwifruit.
It has been 20 years since the collective planted its first kiwifruit seedlings, and in that time the community has been adopting innovative management practices that benefit its whenua.
Planning is also underway to look into the impacts of co-occurring weeds and the microbe communities on the leaves of kiwifruit.
It has also set up its own vertically integrated commercial enterprises to service operational needs as it manages its productive landscapes.
“The philosophy of Te Kaha has always been to give something back to the soil, plants, and people within their rohe, Te Kaha Ahuwhenua Trust chair Norm Carter said.
This is why they value the relationship with Bioprotection Aotearoa.
“We are trying to get the best for the block from the people we are partnering with.
“If there is something there that needs fixing or addressing, we want to know what it is so we can do something about it,” Carter said.
Black said the Te Kaha community is really enthusiastic to be partnering with Bioprotection Aotearoa given it is currently diversifying several productive land blocks.
“This makes it the perfect time to address some of the needs for these Māori growers as we support our early-career researchers to think about where and how their research might lead to impacts,” Black said.