Maori need to overcome a historical fear of land loss and displacement and embrace innovative ideas to make Maori lands more productive, a researcher says.
This could lead to a big economic boost with Maori land covering 1.47 million hectares, or 5.5 per cent, of New Zealand, University of Auckland's Kiri Dell says.
Until now, most research into why Maori land was underdeveloped had pointed to the land itself as being "non-arable" or "unproductive".
But Ms Dell pointed to another reason.
She said more than half of the land was governed by whanau trusts, rather than at the iwi level, and this had led to one of the biggest obstacles to development being "raruraru", or conflict and tension.
"(These) often make it really hard to make decisions, and when there is uncertainty, the governance or management tend to stay with the status quo," she said.
Part of the conflict stemmed from historical land loss, colonisation and displacement, Ms Dell said.
"Some (whanau) expressed a looming fear, where a perceived someone or something was coming to take the land. I heard sentiments like 'the bank will get it', or 'the government just want our land'," she said.
"There's a fear of making the wrong decisions and losing more land."
With fear often standing in the way of innovation and entrepreneurialism, Ms Dell said it was important for whanau to reconnect to their relationship with land.
It was also important to "identify and embrace the unique characteristics of a piece of land", she said.
Whereas some Maori land had historically been used for trend crops, such as dairy farming and pine plantations, these haven't always worked, she said.
"Land has a personality just like people do. Just as you develop your child's personality, we have to develop our land's special character," she said.
The research comes after renowned author Patricia Grace recently won a court battle with the government to stop the forced sale of her land for the Kapiti Expressway.