Scientist Dr Peter Molan has over thirty years research experience in the anti-bacterial properties of Manuka honey, and is recognised as the “father” of UMF certification.
While at Waikato University Dr Molan pioneered research about the effectiveness of Manuka honey to heal infections, and the development of Manuka honey-based wound dressings. Although retired, he is still active in sharing his scientific knowledge and recently presented at the National Miere Coalition hui that was held in Te Araroa in May. Dr Molan was inter- viewed by Nati Link recently to gain his whakaaro about what the mahi Ngati Porou is doing in the Miere sector.
What do you think about Ngati Porou establishing our own Miere Manuka honey collective?
I strongly support the establishment of the Ngati Porou Miere Collective and the National Maori Miere Collective. I have also pledged to help in anyway I can. Changes are occurring in the honey industry, where overseas business interests are buying up honey companies and a New Zealand corporate appears to be aiming to monopolise the production of manuka honey. Forming a Ngati Porou collective gives protection for Ngati Porou land-owners from just being price-takers. And will allow them to benefit fully from the profits to be obtained from manuka honey, which are expected to increase markedly.
Do you consider the Manuka honey produced in our region has special scientific qualities in comparison to others produced elsewhere?
Manuka honey is unique — it is the only honey in the world that has anti- bacterial qualities (at a significant level) that is not due to hydrogen peroxide as is the case in all other types of honey. Hydrogen peroxide is destroyed by an enzyme that is in the blood and other body tissues, but the antibacterial ac- tivity in manuka honey (which is due to its unique component methylglyoxal (MGO) is not decreased). For an example watch this video below.
The level of MGO in manuka honey depends to some degree on the variety of manuka tree from which the honey is produced. The variety that grows on the northern side of the East Cape gives a honey with a high level of MGO. The major reason for the variation in level of MGO in manuka honey, though, is the proportion of manuka source that went into the nectar collected by the bees. Bees are free-flying and will collect nectar from whatever flowers are available to them. The East Cape region is set apart from other regions by having large areas where the soil is too poor for other species of plants to grow, so has many sites where the bees collect only manuka nectar.
The presence of kanuka in some sites is the major cause of lower activity in manuka honey. Pure kanuka honey (i.e. if it has no manuka in with it) has no MGO content. At present it has value in that buyers will pay a premium price for it because they can pass it off as manuka honey, but eventually standards will come into force that put an end to that.
Before our Manuka covered lands were seen as unproductive. Why is there is so much attention focussed on our land from outside interests?
My personal view is that land that was left in Maori ownership by European settlers was the land that was of no value for farming. That land is unproductive or marginally productive because the soil cover is poor. Manuka trees thrive on that sort of land and get no competition from other plants. Until 30 years ago manuka honey was of no value so there was no interest in harvesting it. However, since then research has been done establishing that it has a unique type of antibacterial activity and that this gives excellent results treating infections, including infections with the “superbugs” that antibiotics no longer work on.
Raising public awareness of this around the world has created a huge demand for manuka and a shortage of supply. Companies wanting to cash in on this are desperate to get supplies of manuka honey, but are now realising that this is in the hands of the owners of the land on which manuka grows (which is mostly whenua Maori).
Do you believe Ngati Porou should have more kaitiakitanga over our Manuka honey resource?
Ngati Porou own the land on which the manuka grows, so kaitiakitanga is completely in their hands. But some- thing needs to be done to stop the wide- spread theft of manuka nectar occurring when beekeepers place their hives out- side the boundaries of blocks of land on which manuka grows. Pressure needs to be put on local and regional councils to stop the siting of hives on roadsides and river banks. Ngati Porou also needs to find ways of dissuading greedy members whose land has no manuka on it from collecting rent from beekeepers to al- low them to steal manuka nectar from neighbouring land.
Is there any other korero you would like to share with Nati Link readers?
I would like to add the plea for people to be nice to beekeepers, because they are going to need them to assist the Ngati Porou Miere Collective in the future. Beekeeping is a specialist occupation that requires skill, knowledge and experience to do it well. Successful commercial beekeeping cannot be done by beginners without the guidance of good experienced beekeepers, and in many cases the best plan may be to have good beekeepers working in partnership with land-owners. There is a very big risk that potential income could be lost through poor beekeeping practices. Not all commercial beekeepers are good at what they do. Proven commercial success is a very good indicator of the good ones.
To learn more about the Ngati Porou Miere Collective please read the following articles originally published in the July 2015 edition of Nati Link.