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CLIENT NEWS: Young Maori woman brings important cultural perspective to dairy farming

Young Maori woman brings important cultural perspective to dairy farming

Lincoln University student Ash-Leigh Campbell, 25, is one of the bright lights of Maori agribusiness in New Zealand. Recently named as a finalist in the prestigious 2016 Ahuwhenua Young Māori Dairy Farmer Award – the first ever woman to make the finals of the dairy category – Campbell, who is of Ngāi Tahu descent, is passionate about bringing a Maori perspective to the dairy industry.

She graduated with a Diploma in Agriculture from Lincoln University earlier this year, and is currently studying towards a Diploma in Farm Management at Lincoln University. Her sights are set on doing a Bachelor of Commerce and Agriculture next year. Campbell is also an active member of the Dairy Women's Network Lincoln University branch, and is involved with other industry groups.However, it's been a journey of discovery to get to this point – not only about the dairy industry, but about her whakapapa and Maori lineage.

Raised on a Canterbury lifestyle block, Campbell fell in love with farming as a high school student, working as a relief milker for a local farmer. Campbell's parents bought her an old car to drive and told her she had to earn her own petrol money. "I didn't want to be a check out operator or any typical job for someone my age," said Campbell. "I saw a job advertised for a relief milker at a nearby farm. The farm owner was a bit shocked to see a young girl like me turn up to the interview, but I said 'I can do it'."

Campbell had her first farming job – milking 200 purebred Holstein cows in a 24-side herringbone shed – something she kept up through high school. Since then she's worked in various roles in the dairy industry around Canterbury, on farms big and small, interspersed with overseas travel and university study.

In early 2015 when applying for a scholarship to do a Diploma in Agriculture at Lincoln University, she discovered her Māori heritage. Campbell found out from her mother that she is Ngāi Tahu, and that her maternal great grandmother hailed from the Puketeraki marae at Karitane, Dunedin. "It's been an opportunity to connect with my iwi and find out where I'm from," said Campbell. "It's given me a whole new perspective from the Maori point of view in regards to farming in New Zealand."

The scholarship was part of the Whenua Kura programme, a Ngāi Tahu-led partnership between Te Tapuae o Rehua, Ngāi Tahu Farming and Lincoln University that aims to grow Māori leadership in the agricultural industry.

The programme not only covers tuition, but offers mentoring and a curriculum based on Ngāi Tahu values – kaitiakitanga (guardianship and protection, especially of the land and environment), manaakitanga (hospitality, care and respect) and rangatiratanga (authority and chieftainship). The aim to develop participant's knowledge of Māori values when it comes to land use and management.

As she's gradually explored her roots, Campbell has gained insights into the importance of Maori values when it comes to dairy farming and agriculture. "One thing I've noticed is Maori have a lot more awareness around sustainability and the environment, and the importance of looking after the waterways and the affect for future generations," said Campbell. "It's about things coming full circle – if we look after the land and waterways now, we preserve their use for future generations, and the land will provide."

Campbell says her university studies have given her a chance to discuss and debate hot-topic issues facing the New Zealand dairy industry. "We have talked a lot about water usage which is a big issue for Canterbury, as well as the issue of the water quality of our rivers. All those issues have been in the media, and it's interesting being able to discuss and hear different people's point of view."

The value of kaitiakitanga (guardianship and protection) is one that resonates with Campbell. "I definitely feel that there needs to be greater awareness of this in dairying, but change is occurring," said Campbell. "It's about education, which is something Ngāi Tahu does really well.

Campbell said being involved in the Dairy Women's Network Lincoln University branch has been rewarding. "I think it's really important to network, as it provides so many opportunities," said Campbell. The campus-based group has an average age of about 21, with a different demographic and feel to other Dairy Women's Network groups, said Campbell. "It offers an opportunity for young female dairy farmers to bounce ideas off each other."

Dairy Women's Network CEO Zelda de Villiers says the organisation is immensely proud of Campbell's achievements, including being a finalist in the 2016 Ahuwhenua Young Māori Dairy Farmer Award. "To be the first female to make the finals is a fantastic achievement," said de Villiers. "Ash-Leigh displays the focus and drive to succeed in the dairy industry, and is passionate about dairying as a career. It's inspiring to see women like Ash-Leigh making their mark in dairying."

In her spare time, Campbell enjoys the outdoors, especially water sports and hiking. She is the vice chairperson for Tasman Young Farmers regional group of the New Zealand Young Farmers.

In the future Campbell hopes to combine her passion for dairy farming with her qualifications and heritage. "I want to bring a cultural perspective to dairy farming," said Campbell. "Farmers might be doing something because they are told to do it. I'd like to come in and educate them about why."

She says it can be challenging being a woman in the dairy industry. "I think that's what's made me so determined, to show that a female can do things as well as a male," said Campbell. "Although I've only been in the industry for a short time, already I see the percentage of women in dairying has grown."

Zelda de Villiers says Dairy Women's Network supports women in the dairy industry through networking and education. "It's important to attract young women to the dairy industry, as it offers a life-long career and many great opportunities," said de Villiers. "Women are increasingly making their mark in dairying."