Buzzing with purpose: Manawa Honey on working in harmony with people, planet, and bees

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Bees are small critters with a mighty role in the prosperity of humans and our home — in fact, a third of our food production depends on them. Even still, many people would admit to giving bees a wide berth! But to the Manawa Honey team of Aotearoa New Zealand, these sweet little creatures are much-loved colleagues.

Manawa is based in the Ruatāhuna valley, a vast, unbelievably magical indigenous forest that is, as they describe it, ‘a wonderland for honey bees’. With strong ancestral ties to the region, the team steward the land with heart, prioritising biodiversity, regenerative practices, sustainable beekeeping methods, and investing in forest research.

A closely intertwined ecosystem between land, people, and the bees – each working in harmony to thrive, while uplifting each other at the same time – this is a B Corp truly challenging the notion of what society traditionally thinks of as ‘business’.

Beyond protecting bees and the planet they call home, creating local jobs is one of the organisation’s key founding missions. Through its employment program, Manawa cultivates inclusive avenues of career growth, while also inspiring the next generation through school and community education programs.

Manawa is proof that good business produces very sweet results. Their Rewarewa honey took out the Grand First Prize at the Black Jar International Honey Tasting Contest in the US, and in 2021 they brought home two gold and two silver awards at the London Honey Awards.

As they celebrate their 10th birthday, we chat to Manawa Honey about their B Corp journey, agriculture with heart, and why Manawa Honey will never be up for sale.

Image: Manawa Honey

Tell us a bit about the Manawa Honey story and what your B Corp does

Our name, Manawa, means ‘heart’. This is what drives us.

Founded by the Tūhoe Tuawhenua Trust, our business is ultimately about the development of our people and the enrichment of our forests.

The Trust is responsible for 25 blocks of land in the Tuawhenua region which surrounds the Ruatāhuna valley in Te Urewera at Te Manawa-o-te-Ika (The Heart of Māui’s Fish) – the North Island of New Zealand.

The Trust conducts a range of activities including business development in honey production and indigenous forestry, youth development programmes and projects in research and biodiversity. 

We have built our honey business to sustain our people with jobs and good health, and to protect bees, who play an important role in this planet and in our lives as humans.

We specialise in producing the best native tree honeys from our vast untouched forests including Mānuka, Rewarewa, Tāwari, Kānuka, Maunga, Pua-ā-Tāne, wild forest honey, raw forest honey and lime infusion. 

Your deep values for people, planet, and sustainable beekeeping shine brightly through everything you do at Manawa. What made you decide to take the step to certify as a B Corporation?

We have always been supportive of businesses that achieve growth through connecting with other communities of people that have the same goals. Our tagline ‘Honey from the Heart’ refers not just to our honeys but also to our approach to our business.

We looked up what it meant to be a B Corp and thought straight away ‘This is us!’ We love the commitment from the B Corp community to continuously strive for better ways of doing business. This aligns with our core tikanga (values), which are:

Whenua (Sustainable Land Use) and Tangata Whenua (Development for our People of the Land)

Beekeeping is a sustainable use of our bush-clad mountainous region that can benefit current and future generations, without detrimental impact on our ecosystems. People and the land in harmony, forever.

Manaaki (Sustainable Beekeeping)

In the world of beekeeping, artificial feeding of sugar and pollen substitutes have become a norm for much of the year. However we focus on sustainable beekeeping practices based on natural forest sources of nectar and pollen.

Mauri (Our Forest Quintessence)

We are committed to looking after our indigenous ecosystems of which honey bees have been a part for nearly 200 hundred years. Our beekeeping operation maintains a pollination service in our forest for many species, especially because feral honey beehives were wiped out by the dreaded varroa mite when it reached New Zealand in the year 2000.

Manawa (Honey from the Heart)

We produce our honeys with care, as if every drop was for our own table. We manage our production from our forests to the jar so that we can control the quality of our honeys. 

Image: Manawa Honey

Manawa Honey was founded by the Tūhoe Tuawhenua Trust. How does this make your B Corp unique and how does it inform your values as an organisation?

Our tumanako (vision) for the Tuawhenua Trust and for Manawa Honey NZ is ‘Kia tau te iwi me te whenua’ (people and land in harmony). So ultimately, the honey business exists for the good of our people, the land, and forests.  

We set up Manawa Honey for the following reasons:

  • Traditionally, honey was a revered food (a taonga); we wanted to get honey back into every home in Ruatāhuna.
  • Beekeeping keeps us in touch with our forest which is the mauri, or life source, for our people and our culture.
  • The honey business creates meaningful jobs and careers of different types for our people, from beekeeping to brand management. It is a real platform for developing our people. 
  • Bees are good for our environment, pollinating our farm pastures, our orchards and gardens, and our forest ecosystems.  

We will never sell the business Manawa Honey, it ultimately belongs to the people that own the land that we are responsible for as a trust. We aim to continue to develop our people and provide jobs for their well-being into the future, for generations to come.

This year you’re celebrating 10 years of Manawa Honey – congratulations! Over that time we’re sure you have seen significant shifts in sustainability and in the business world. Looking towards the next 10 years, what business practices do you hope to see become the ‘norm’?

We’d like to see employment practices that are inclusive and fair to people of different ages, genders, races and backgrounds – practices where everyone has the opportunity to develop to the best of their ability.

We’d also like to see operational and resource management practices that are regenerative; where resources used in the operations of the business are also subject to programmes of regeneration so that the resource is not depleted.  

Finally, we hope to see community engagement and development become the norm in business, where organisations invest back into their local communities locations and key markets.

Image: Manawa Honey

We’re so excited to see the B Corp community in Aotearoa New Zealand thriving and growing rapidly. Is there a B Corp (either home or away) that inspires you?

Tough question! There are so many, however one that stands out to us is The Better Packaging Co‘s who design packaging solutions. They collect ocean bound plastic pollution and recycle it into mailers, poly bags and more… how inspiring is that!

You mentioned feeling an immediate connection with the B Corp ethos. For any aspiring B Corporations out there, do you have any tips in approaching the certification process?

The B Impact Assessment can feel daunting to begin with, but just work through each part bit-by-bit and you will get there! 

A big thank you to Manawa Honey for taking the time to share its journey with us. To find out more and explore their offering visit: