Leading kauri dieback scientists back indigenous knowledge to restore Aotearoa's kaurilands

Leading kauri dieback scientists are backing the use of mātauranga Māori, or indigenous knowledge, in the battle to restore our kaurilands.

They say it's been a long journey to get to this point due to resistance and institutional racism from academia and western science. 

However, the work by rongoā Māori practitioners with the ancient kauri trees suggests a multidisciplinary approach is the best way forward.

The future's looking brighter for one new generation of kauri trees. Rongoā Māori practitioners claim they're close to finding a cure for kauri dieback disease, and scientists accept a breakthrough could be close.

"I'm optimistic that it's there, we are not there yet but we are getting there," said plant pathologist, Ngā Rākau Taketake Dr Nick Waipara.

But Dr Waipara said more research is still needed to validate whether the soil-pathogen phytophthora agathidicida has been completely eradicated from the sick kauri trees treated with rongoā.

"When we are seeing the success of rongoā we will see in terms of the lesions or the weeping of the tree which is infected, that stops," Dr Waipara said. 

The process of restoring kauri health begins when the infection stops, then there is a decline and then the tree recovers. 

The indicators are when ring barking around the tree is eliminated, with bark and foliage renewed.

Rongoā practitioners in Northland involved in the Kauri Ora programme say trees they've treated are showing these positive signs.

"The unique knowledge that our people have of ecology, of Aotearoa, and biodiversity is part of cracking that code," said Dr Waipara. 

Soil scientist Dr Amanda Black said mātauranga Māori, traditional knowledge, can be the shortcut to solutions.

For example, the kahikatoa spray used on the soil to treat the sick kauri, is a traditional remedy with a mix of mānuka and kānuka and scientists have found that flavonoids from kānuka do inhibit phytophthora - which causes kauri dieback.

"The hairy bits of the phytophthora it grows and grows and grows. But kānuka puts out this chemical that stops it from doing that. It's like if you rub some ointment on it stops your rash from spreading, it's kind of that effect," said Dr Black.

"This is really exciting to see what those researchers and mātauranga knowledge holders are applying and they are on that journey to restore the ngāhere to what it once was," Dr Waipara told Newshub. 

It is a journey that has taken centuries to get to this point due to institutional racism within the academia and western science worlds towards accepting other knowledge systems.

The work is only in the early stages though and is affected by the co-governance of tribal lands alongside government agencies that are just starting to get their heads around customary practices such as kaitiakitanga, or guardianship.

But with the rongoā Maori practitioners and the scientists working together and the old knowledge and the new discoveries aligning, hopes of beating kauri dieback have never been higher.

Leading kauri dieback scientists back indigenous knowledge to restore Aotearoa's kaurilands