Scholar’s focus on food security, Asian culture

Charles Rowe, Te Ohu Kaimoana's 2015 Global Fisheries Scholar, grew up on a Kiwifruit orchard at Hikuai, near Thames. It was at home where he first became interested in food safety and product development, as well as Asian culture, as the fruit was mostly exported to Japan.

“When I was at home, and helping on the orchard, the fruit was being exported to Japan and that was exciting,” he says. “That was the beginning of my growing interest in both Asia and food safety and food security.”

When he left to study at Otago University, his upbringing on the farm contributed towards his choice of degree: a Bachelor of Arts, double major in Japanese and Asian studies, a Bachelor of Science, majoring in food science, and a Diploma of Language endorsed in Chinese.  “I consciously tried to combine my interest in food science with Asian studies, which I’ve been really interested in for a long time,” Charles says.

Since being in China, he adds, he has also developed a professional interest in issues related to food security.  “During my time here, I’ve discovered how New Zealand was affected, very deeply I think, from the melamine milk powder scandal in 2008. And only last year, there was the issue with New Zealand meat products being held up on the wharf in China, so the issues of food safety and food security are very prominent in China, as well as Japan,” Charles says.

Charles Rowe

During his studies at Otago University Charles became an AsiaNZ Foundation Young Leader and received a scholarship to study at Hirosaki University in Aomori, Japan. In 2012 he also attended a university exchange to Tsinghua University, China, studying logistics and global corporate strategy. In 2013, he undertook a youth internship for the New Zealand-China Friendship Society and went on to receive a Chinese Government scholarship to attend Peking University, where he is currently studying a Masters of Law in International Relations (MIR). The course is concerned with Chinese foreign policy, national defence, public policy, political economy, and non-traditional security (with particular interest in food and energy security). Charles says his thesis will look at research into food security issues and its influence on China-New Zealand relations.

Charles also works at the university as a liaison officer for the New Zealand Centre, which provides information to Chinese about studying in New Zealand and gives exposure to Kiwi educational institutions. The centre also runs a New Zealand studies course and assists visiting Fellows.

Charles is very supportive of a trading environment that helps Māori exporters into Asia. “I’m more and more interested in how ‘Māori Inc’ can benefit by branding itself in Asia. Māori businesses are often resource rich but lacking in capital and I think that our Kiwi food exports are an effective bridge between Japan, China and other Asian countries and our Māori exporters.”

He says he will use his time in Japan on the Global Fisheries Scholarship to learn about the opportunities that exist in Asia for Māori exporters, the directions in which the food market is heading, and how New Zealand businesses can best market their products. “There’s a lot that we can do to improve. New Zealand crayfish is consumed in China but it’s not widely known to be a New Zealand product or consumers don’t have a huge awareness of it. That’s just one case, and it’s not unique to food. I think there’s the same issue in the timber industry. Provenance and being able to track where products originate from is very important to consumers and I think will become increasingly necessary,” Charles says.

Charles will take up in scholarship at the beginning of 2015. The Global Fisheries Scholarship is jointly offered by Te Ohu Kaimoana (the Māori Fisheries Trust) and Nippon Suisan Kaisha, Limited (Nissui) for Māori to spend 12 months working at Nissui and being immersed in life in Japan. The scholarship has been offered since 2003. Te Ohu Kaimoana, through Aotearoa Fisheries Limited, and Nissui are each 50 percent shareholders in Sealord Group Ltd.