The puller-togetherer of the Manuka Research Partnership Ltd is reading the fine print of the Primary Growth Partnership contract with MAF.
Neil Walker has no inside knowledge on whether the consortium’s biggest player, Comvita, will or won’t get taken over overseas company Cerebos (in turn majority owned by Japan’s Suntory). See here for some other NZ Inc sticK thinking on the subject.
But, Walker, a former senior research manager at Fonterra, current Taranaki dairy farmer and regional councillor (among many hats), would like to see a longterm approach to the development of the manuka honey and other products market in and by New Zealand.
MRPL recently obtained 50:50 funding from the MAF-administered Primary Growth Partnership (PGP), after its members agreed to pony up half of the $1.7 million to be invested in a seven year research programme to increase the reliability of supply and proportion of medical grade manuka honey out of New Zealand. (Story here).
Of most immediate interest could be the fine print in the PGP contract with respect to the research programmes being in the interest of NZ.
Walker says there’s a contract clause about protecting the nation’s investment and equity in the project. Though a foreign-owner wouldn’t necessarily not be able to be part of a research project, Walker says it is something that would have to be looked at.
The consortium reckons it can produce 16 times the current quantity of manuka honey (and with it the Unique Manuka Factor = active ingredient methylgloxal) and crack $1 billion a year in sales.
MRPL has just begun efforts to have plantation manuka aimed at maximising flowering and length of flowering time. It is working closely with Massey University, and after an initial set-back when the original PhD student who was going to work in the project had to pull out, has now found another academically-inclined scientist to carry out the contracted work.
Walker says MRPL has to meet milestones with ongoing funding dependent on meeting them.
MRPL has also appointed Dr Laurie Melton , recently retired as professor of Food Science at Auckland University, as an independent auditor of the partnership’s performance.
Melton will help keep an on eye on how well projects are moving along, and be able to provide the necessary prods and pushes if required.
Walker has observed over the years that it is extremely easy to find time and milestone slippage when dealing with universities. ‘While this project may be important to us, it’s just another project for the university,’ he says. ‘An independent, external auditor is one way of keep in the project moving.’
He hopes that New Zealand can learn off the likes of the Chinese and Japanese, and have at least a 20 year plan for manuka honey. Comvita’s courting of Cerebos could be a way to establish exactly how much Comvita is worth, though he also hopes present directors are taking a longterm approach to any investment in what is a public company.
In the meantime, Walker’s going to check out the details of the PGP contract.
For, while MAF aren’t the only ones interested in the outcome, given that there’s intellectual property being (or going to be) generated in manuka by the MRPL, as the government’s proxy, it has a fair bit of influence in the final outcome of the project.