Starting a government-funded banana industry in Gisborne has been described by the New Zealand Taxpayers’ Union as a waste of time and “literal banana republicanism.”
The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment is spending $93,000 to look into the idea and Te Nahu whanau Tai Pukenga Trust is wanting to develop a tropical fruits demonstration farm after developing a relationship with the Tropical Fruit Growers of New Zealand group.
Trust programme manager Trevor Mills says the trust has small trial plots of hemp and about 3ha of land available for horticultural production, and bananas would be a better short-term commercial return than other crops like citrus and grapes.
Research shows a possible return of $20,000-$30,000 a hectare after a 30-month planting to harvesting period, and Gisborne boasts significant expertise in growing bananas.
The Trust is looking at growing banana plantlets from tissue culture techniques with the local Linnaeus laboratory associated with Riversun Nursery.
“The farm would be able to show to interested parties, iwi and hapu that there is much commercial promise growing bananas and other tropical crops in Tairawhiti,” Mills says. “Such a move would increase employment opportunities and create more productive land use.”
But Taxpayers’ Union spokesman Louis Houlbrooke says the idea is ridiculous.
“There are very good reasons New Zealanders eat imported bananas,” he says. “Our weather puts us at a hopeless economic disadvantage when it comes to growing tropical fruit. While it may be technically possible to grow bananas in Gisborne, it should be done at the risk of private investors, not based on taxpayer subsidies. It’s also possible to build igloos in Gisborne – but taxpayers aren’t asked to fund that.”