Kiwifruit the conqueror
I ran into Don Brash in Sydney airport several days ago. Brash is a free marketeer of renown, former central banker of New Zealand and missed becoming the country’s ruler by one seat.
But what we spoke about was a less-known feather in his cap – how he spearheaded New Zealand’s rise as the kiwifruit superpower.
It was hardly preordained. The fruit originally came from china and popped up in New Zealand in 1905 or thereabouts. But the island soil and vigorous selective breeding by New Zealand farmers converted a small, hard and mouth-twistingly sour fruit into the tart emerald succulent we all know today.
“The Chinese gooseberry, as it was called then, was quite inedible,” said brash. But new zealand now had a winner and brash headed the agricultural export promotion campaign that made it a money-spinner.
One key insight he had was that New Zealand was better off not hoarding the technology, as some farmers wanted. “It wasn’t practical,” says brash.
Growing the plant was hardly rocket science. But brash also recognised that New Zealand would benefit if more nations grew the fruit. Prices would fall and overall demand would expand. “We must have shipped about 40000 tonnes when we were on our own. Today it’s something like a couple of million even though New Zealand’s market share is less than half of the total.”
Protectionism never pays, but confidence does.
Now kiwifruits are grown everywhere. Italy may be the world’s largest producer. They even grow in Himachal Pradesh. China, ever pragmatic, didn’t complain and even “asked us to help them grow their own fruit.”
And since they’re the cutting edge in kiwifruit tech, New Zealand is two steps ahead of everyone. “They’ve got a yellow kiwifruit out now and they’re working on a red one I gather,” said brash.
China, or more accurately sinophobia, was behind the name as well. “Some New Zealand exporter tried to peddle them in the US in the 1960s. But this was before nixon and mao. He was told nothing called ‘Chinese’ or ‘gooseberry’ would sell in America. So he came up with kiwifruit. A perfect name,” said Brash.