If there is one thing Isikeli Maka has learned in his 50-plus years of working the land, it is that timing is everything. Back in his home country of Tonga, the cyclone season has growers calculating the best times to plant and harvest.
“If you don't get it right, you will lose everything,” Isikeli says. “There is no protection against a cyclone.”
That is among the many pearls of wisdom Isikeli brings to the watermelon-growing operation he has established in the East Coast region of Gisborne. There, a number of major rain events have had a big impact on growers but, against those odds, Isikeli managed to shoehorn his season into a favourable window.
Having prepared the one-hectare block he leases at Manutuke, 15 kilometres from Gisborne city, his seedlings were ready to plant in October with the aim of starting the harvest in early January.
“Then the rain came,” Isikeli says, referring to the state-of-emergency-level weather bomb that hit the region towards the end of October. That set us back a week but as all the paddocks around us were flooded, it turned out to be lucky. We would have lost the lot.”
Despite a turbulent start, Isikeli’s half-century of experience produced a fast and furious season – 10,000 plants were in the ground by the end of October; the harvest started on 24 January and in the second week of February they were done.
Most of Isikeli's crop is sold direct to consumers, with fanau (family) coming from around the country to help with the three weeks of harvest and sales. And for the first year they operated under the newly-formed Isikeli Maka and Fanau Trust (IMFT) which was established to formalise the operation.
In the years Isikeli has been in Gisborne, much of the produce he has grown has been gifted to church, fanau and the community.
“That is why we set up the trust,” says daughter-in-law, Katerina Maka (Te Aitanga-a-Māhaki/Te Whānau-a-Kai), who developed a fresh social media programme for the 2022 season. We wanted to make sure Isikeli and his fanau got some return for all the work he puts in and to be able to share his passion. Through his generational knowledge, my own children are learning how to live off the land and that's what we all want for them.”
For more information:
Tel.: + 64 04 472 3795