Landcare Research - Manaaki Whenua

Landcare-Research -Manaaki Whenua

Soil health and resilience: oneone ora, tangata ora

The ongoing capacity of soil ecosystems to maintain the services they provide is fundamental to our economic, cultural, social and environmental well-being.

Current measures of soil health in Aotearoa-New Zealand focus on short-term “dynamic” soil characteristics (such as pH and soil nutrients). These measures may be inadequate to assess long-term changes to soil health and resilience and additionally do not recognise cultural perspectives. In this MBIE funded programme, we are exploring the meaning of soil health both from traditional science and kaupapa Māori perspectives so we will be able to more broadly articulate and express long-term effects of land use on soil ecosystems.

Long term experiments using traditional scientific methods for measuring soil health are being carried out as part of this programme. A variety of soil characteristics and land use sequences in a variety of soil types are being measured in order to determine how different soils change under land use intensification. In addition, to advance the development of mātauranga Māori concepts of soil health, a Māori Experts group has been established and a wealth of information has been collected on traditional and contemporary uses of soils and aspirations for soils. While New Zealand classifies its soils into 15 broad soil classes, Māori gardeners have at least 60 descriptive names for soils. If you live in Auckland you will not be surprised to learn that “One hunga” describes a soil made up of “beach sand sometimes mixed with mud”! “Tuatara wawata” is a brown friable soil suitable for kumara.

A significant component of the soil health and resilience programme is to engage with soil health stakeholders. A survey and stakeholder workshop were conducted in 2017 and 2018 respectively.


On 15 May 2019 we held  a soil health policy workshop in Wellington. Representatives from regional and central Government, science organisations and the agricultural sector attended the workshop and provided a range of views on soil health policy. Insights from this workshop will contriubte to the development of the integrated soil health framework.