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Rural Industries Research & Development Corporation

R&D Plan for the Native Foods Industry 2001 - 2006

    Foreword 1. Purpose of the Plan
    2. Vision Statement 3. Background to the Industry
    4. Key issues for the Industry 5. The R&D Program for 2001-2006
    Appendix-SWOT analysis for the industry References


    Within the context of the Corporation's Five-Year Strategic Plan (1997), we have committed ourselves to developing five-year plans for each major RIRDC program. Because of their diversity, the activities comprising the New Plant Products Program are best represented by several individual commodity-specific plans such as this one for native food.(1)

    The plan identifies the key objectives for the R&D investments that RIRDC will make in coming years on behalf of the native food industry and the Commonwealth Government

    The first industry R&D Plan was released in October 1998. A meeting in March 2001 was convened with leading industry participants from the production to the marketing and processing ends of the value chain to review the Plan. This version of the plan arises from that meeting and has been widely distributed for discussion and amendment

    The plan will be distributed widely by the Corporation (including insertion in its website http://www.rirdc.gov.au ) and will be used to guide on-going R&D investments. It is consistent with RIRDC's Strategic Plan (1997-2002) and will be implemented in accordance with the provisions of the Primary Industries and Energy Research and Development Act 1989

    Peter Core
    Managing Director
    Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation

    1 The term "native food" has been used through this report where appropriate as research carried out under the first plan suggested this was a more appropriate term for promotion of the industry into the future. The Workshop of industry representatives in Canberra, March 2001, endorsed this.

    1. Purpose of the Plan

    This R&D plan has three main purposes:

    • to present the rationale for the native food R&D activities that RIRDC will support and manage on behalf of the Commonwealth Government and the industry;
    • to provide clear signals to the industry, to governments and to the research community regarding R&D needs and priorities for the period 2001-2006; and
    • to encourage discussion that will enable the needs of the industry to be further defined and responded to as the industry gathers momentum

    The plan focuses on plant-based native food, R&D on animal-based native food being currently supported from RIRDCís New Animal Products program

    It is an updated plan from the R&D program of 1998 and is intended to serve the industry during the early years of the 21st century. It has a lifespan of five years but can be amended at any time to reflect changes in industry needs and priorities

    For RIRDC, the plan is the latest link in the chain connecting:

    • the Greening Australia and RIRDC-sponsored Bush Food Seminar held at Bangalow in February, 1994;
    • its support for the activities of the Australian Native Bushfood Industry Committee (ANBIC) from 1995 to 1996;
    • its sponsorship of the ANBIC 1996 Conference "Culture of the Land; Cuisine of the People", and, most recently;
    • the commissioned report of February, 1997 by Caroline Graham and Denise Hart entitled "Prospects for the Australian Native Bushfood Industry"
    • The Industry R&D Plan issued in October 1998

    The plan is based on consultation with the industry and the community. It stems from a RIRDCsponsored industry workshop held in Canberra in February 1997

    In March 2001 a group of 15 industry members, including growers, processors, marketers and communicators in this field came together to review the 1998 document. They found much of it did not need changing but where research had been undertaken some of the Objectives and priorities had moved on, as has the industry

    2 Vision Statement

    A profitable, agriculturally and environmentally sustainable plant-based Australian native food industry that is founded on an international reputation for the reliable supply of consistently safe and high quality food backed by effective and imaginative promotional and educational material, and that recognises Aboriginal culture, food practices and involvement

    3. Background to the Industry

    While bushfood has been the staple of Australiaís Aboriginal people for millennia, the impetus for the establishment of a bushfood industry has been attributed to pioneers such as Vic Cherikoff and to the restaurateurs Jean-Paul Bruneteau and Jennifer Dowling who introduced native foods into their menus during the early and mid-1980s (1). In addition to being novel and Australian, such food was perceived to be clean, healthy, organic and environmentally friendly. TV programs such as The Bushtucker Man have done much to raise public awareness of native food in subsequent years, albeit from a somewhat different perspective. As a result of research conducted under the first plan it was agreed that the appropriate terminology for this industry should be Native Food so this will be used in future

    Size and nature of the industry

    The industry is small, fragmented and frequently undercapitalised (2). Bush harvesting is the dominant means of production with half a dozen species still wild collected but cultivation is expanding. Some participants favour the production of native food by mainstream agricultural and horticultural methods whereas others prefer alternative approaches that are perceived to be more environmentally friendly than conventional methods. The absence of registered chemicals for native species means that organic methods are the norm2. Native foods generally comprise only a part of the overall business activity for many of those involved in the industry

    The gross value of the industry was estimated to be $10-12 million (including value adding) in 1995/96 (2 || 3). The gross value of the industry includes subsistence use, wild harvest, farm production, a wide range of value adding activities and a variety of endusers including restaurants, retailers and other hospitality providers. The farmgate and ex-nursery gross value of production is thought to be about $5 million. Average returns across the industry are reputedly low. No current firm figures are available but the recent take-up of native food product by major supermarket chains, both locally and overseas, suggests increasing customer demand.

    2 Native citrus, which have now been reclassified into the Citrus spp are possibly the only exception to this, as there are many registered chemicals for horticultural production.

    Participation and structures

    There are approximately 500 active participants in the industry (excluding a very significant number of Aboriginal participants through the Land Councils and other groups. They operate in all states and territories

    The industry comprises:
    ∑ wild harvesters ∑ hospitality providers
    ∑ nursery operators ∑ retailers
    ∑ commercial producers of raw produce ∑ food service operators, and 
    ∑ processors of raw produce ∑ tourism operators.

    They operate as single-purpose enterprises, networks, vertically integrated operations and wholesale/merchandising enterprises. Only two or three of these businesses have an annual turn over of more than one million dollars.

    The most significant crops and end-uses
    In terms of market demand in 2000, the most commercially significant foods (3) were:
    ∑ aniseed myrtle ∑ muntries / muntharies
    ∑ Davidsonís plum ∑ riberries
    ∑ lemon aspen ∑ quandong
    ∑ lemon myrtle ∑ wild limes
    ∑ mountain pepper ∑ wattleseed.

    Except for a small amount of fresh produce going to restaurants, the bulk of the domestic produce is dried, frozen or further processed, often in combination with non-native food ingredients, into a wide range of value-added foodstuffs (2,3). Gift and specialty shops are important outlets in this sector of the market. The food service sector is becoming increasingly involved but uptake by processors servicing the larger retail and wholesale food service market is currently limited (3)

    There is significant interest from export markets in Europe and North America. This interest is fostered by the success overseas of Australian wines, meats and seafood. Demand from Asia is currently small

    Industry associations both generic and for specific crops, and co-operative ventures have been formed while some have withered. Newsletters and a magazine for the industry have appeared.

    3 "Wild limes": this term probably needs redefinition by the industry as there are six native spp known and thse are also know to hybridise with other introduced spp. Currently a number of these are commercially cultivated

    4. Key issues for the Industry

  • Market focus
  • Safety and food standards
  • Profitable & sustainable production systems 
  • Information and communication
  • A SWOT analysis (Appendix 1) indicates that to prosper and be sustainable, in the broadest sense, the industry must address the following key issues or result areas:

    Market focus

    As with many young industries, understanding of existing and potential markets for native food and the forces that drive these markets is often poor. This situation can lead to participants not focussing their energies and scarce resources on the potentially most rewarding sectors of the market. This issue is particularly important now that the potential supply of some foods is thought to outstrip likely demand (3)

    Safety and food standards

    There is an increasing trend for both domestic and export markets to seek suppliers who consistently provide safe and good quality food. Environmental concerns are also of increasing importance as consumers expect to buy food that is clean and green. To maximise its market advantage, native food enterprises must be in a position to assure buyers and consumers that it recognises such values, endorses HACCP practices and does indeed provide produce that is safe, of good quality and produced in an environmentally responsible manner.

    Profitable and sustainable production systems

    In the long term, there is a need to devise and adopt production systems that are both profitable, ecologically and agriculturally sustainable and viable in terms of end-user pricing. The ecologically sustainable management of bush sources and the domestication, improvement and cultivation of "wild" species and forms are important facets of this issue as is the responsible use of water, soils, and agricultural chemicals

    Information and communication

    In spite of efforts by the industry associations and government bodies there is a paucity of information of all sorts about the industry and within the industry. What information there is often unevenly distributed. This situation must be rectified if industry participants and would-be entrants are to be enabled to make informed business decisions. Tackling this problem will require the generation of new knowledge, the analysis and more critical use of existing knowledge, the establishment of a database, and improved communication via the Internet, industry networks and newsletters, research reports, and training courses.

    5. The R&D Program for 2001-2005

    The program addresses the key industry issues of:
  • Market focus
  • Safety and food standards
  • Profitable and ecologicallysustainable production
  • Information and communication
  • It is built around the conceptual model of the value adding chain running from the market place, through the product and its production to the people within the industry.

    Research Ethics

    It is a prerequisite for all research carried out under this R&D Plan that the knowledge of Aboriginal people and their association with the land and the plants on which the native food industry is built must be recognised and respected. It is a further requirement that where information is provided to researchers by community Elders and other Aboriginals, such information must be identified and codified. The ethical consideration should be that opportunities for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island communities or individual families, arising from native food development should be fostered and promoted as a necessary step in the commercialisation of native species

    The difficult issue of hybrids of native species with related species, particularly for instance in the case of wild limes, needs to be considered by the industry.

    Funding priorities

    Consultation with the industry has identified understanding and strengthening markets and profitable, agriculturally and ecologically sustainable production as priority issues, with each of these needing to be underpinned by a strengthened human resource base.

    Objectives and strategies

    The program will support R&D aimed at:

  • Understanding, strengthening and developing markets
  • Improving existing products and developing new ones
  • Enhancing the ability of the industry to meet appropriate safety and food standards
  • Improving production efficiency while maintaining ecological integrity
  • Enhancing the human resources of the industry
  • Following are strategies to address these objectives and provide targets and performance indicators by which progress can be judged. They seek to provide general guidance rather than detailed prescriptions about what needs to be done and how to do it

    The objectives should be regarded as complementary and having flexible boundaries that enable the key issues for the industry to be addressed effectively via more than one strategy

    The effectiveness of the program will depend greatly on the industryís support for and involvement in the program both at the design stage and during its carriage.

    Objective 1: To understand, strengthen and develop markets

    Objective 2: To improve existing products and develop new ones

    Objective 3:  To enhance the ability of the industry to provide products that meet appropriate safety and food standards

    Objective 4: To improve production efficiency while maintaining ecological integrity

    Objective 5: To enhance the human resources of the industry

    OBJECTIVE 1: To understand, strengthen and develop markets

    The goals here are to seek out and disseminate information on and to foster understanding of existing and potential markets for bushfood. This will enable market trends, opportunities and constraints to be recognised and responded to in both marketing and production


    • Develop a generic promotion and marketing language and terminology to be used in consumer education that meets the needs of customers; ensure that this is used in providing data and information on the industry
    • Promote global access to native foods by researching the best methods to raise awareness of these unique products and educating consumers in their uses in international markets
    • Undertake innovative product development: new ideas for new products from native foods and new foods from native plants should be explored with research on feasibility where individual members of the industry are not already working


    • Analyse and disseminate findings of perceptions in market sectors including regional differences, opportunities, and constraints from time to time
    • Increase numbers and diversity of native food products on market by 2006
    • Make information on existing and potential markets available to all sectors of industry

    Performance indicators

    • Availability, quality and timeliness of market information
    • Increased numbers and diversity of Native Food products on the international market by 2006
    • Change in product formats.
    OBJECTIVE 2: To improve existing products and develop new ones


    The goals here are to help the industry to meet market needs, to address opportunities, to improve product quality and supply (both raw and processed), and to add value


    • Preserve, explore and protect the genetic resource base of wild harvested native food
    • Bring commercially valuable or promising varieties and species into cultivation
    • Provide environmentally friendly agronomy and pest control packages that support diverse production systems
    • Improve existing plant selections and develop new species through selection and breeding, and to develop a system of agronomic and varietal descriptors for the industry. This strategy would include improvement of propagation techniques


    • Selection and breeding programs leading to improved varieties and improved cropping programs should be established
    • R&D focussed on crops and products with greatest potential commercial benefit
    • Environmentally acceptable management and production packages developed for major crops by 2006
    • Increased industry involvement in the development and commercialisation of new crops and products; critical economic and technical analyses of existing and prospective crops available to industry

    Performance indicators

    • Level of conservation and sustainable management of reserve base
    • Number and volume of new crops and products entering market
    • Quantity and variety of native foods as components of main stream food items
    • Improved shelf life
    • Availability of information on new crops and new products
    • Level of industry involvement in innovation

    OBJECTIVE 3: To enhance the ability of the industry to provide products that meet appropriate safety and food standards


    The goal here is to maximise market advantage by ensuring the ability of the industry to comply with the ANZFA Food Standards Code or other appropriate codes (for example, SQF 2000TM Quality Code:1995). Inter alia, the Code comprises the objectives of protecting public health and safety, providing adequate information to enable consumers to make informed choices, and providing minimum value-added product standards to prevent fraud and deception


    • Devise and disseminate strategies for helping the industry to establish and meet the relevant codes written in the context of environmentally sustainable production
    • Establish industry-driven quality and food-safety standards and descriptions for value-added and processed products


    • Review food safety status and research needs of major traded species by 2006
    • Complete and disseminate review of HACCP needs and priorities by 2006
    • Develop guidelines and HACCP - based training manuals by 2006

    Performance indicators

    • Availability of information on the food safety of major traded species
    • Availability of information on the implications of safety and quality standards for the production and processing sectors of the industry
    • R&D initiated that addresses safety and quality issues

    OBJECTIVE 4: To improve production efficiency while maintaining ecological integrity


    The goal here is to develop and foster production systems that are profitable and ecologically sustainable


    For wild harvested foods:

    • Support the better management of currently wild harvested crops and the development of appropriate conservation strategies
    • Provide improved practices and technologies (pre and post harvest) for conserving, picking, sorting and handling wild harvested produce

    For cultivated native foods:

    • Provide environmentally friendly agronomy and pest control packages that support sustainable monoculture, polyculture, aorganic, and other production systems
    • Integrate bushfood production into other farming and business activities
    • Devise means of improving product quality and consistency, including improving pre and post harvest technology
    • Develop and disseminate technical and economic information on existing and improved production systems


    • Environmentally acceptable management and production packages, including wild harvest Codes of Practice, developed for major crops by 2006
    • Critical economic and technical analyses of existing and prospective crops available to industry
    • Guidelines and standards for improving and monitoring product quality and consistency established by 2006

    Performance indicators

    • Effective protection of wild resources; no increase in threat of extinction (both locally and nationally) for any species from which native foods are produced
    • Any strain, variety or species from which a bushfood product is derived must show a stable or improved status with respect to its rarity or degree of threat of extinction. Such status must be considered both locally and nationally
    • Level of productivity per unit of input
    • Availability of and level of adherence to quality standards and monitoring systems
    • Knowledge, stability and biodiversity of the ecosystems from which native foods are harvested

    OBJECTIVE 5: To enhance the human resources of the industry


    The goal here is to strengthen the human resource base of the industry by improving access to information, by encouraging collaboration and a common ethos, and by supporting training


    • Develop a readily accessible database on native food, industry structure and participation
    • Encourage networking, workshops and the production of newsletters
    • Support the involvement of indigenous people in the industry and its development
    • Support nationally focussed but regionally developed education and training in business planning and in native food production and processing


    • Industry involved in targeting and supporting R&D by 2006
    • Establish a native food data base by 2002
    • Industry-driven education and training courses initiated by 2006

    Performance indicators

    • Level of access to database
    • Level of collaboration between the various components of the industry
    • Level of industry involvement in R&D

    6. Appendix 1 SWOT analysis for the bushfood industry

    ( Note this SWOT was largely done in 1998 and has only been slightly modified since)





    • unique and novel product tastes / flavours / intensities
    • organic methods of production predominant
    • clean and green production environment, generally with abundant land and water
    • broad biodiversity and species-base to draw on
    • Aboriginal knowledge and involvement
    • strongly committed industry participants with diverse skills
    • natural monopoly, without overseas competition


    • fragmentation and lack of collaboration within industry
    • undercapitalisation of existing players and too few commercial scale operators
    • communication mechanisms rudimentary and planning often poor
    • generic market information scarce or lacking
    • potential imbalances between supply and demand
    • lack of substantial existing markets ∑ variations in product supply and quality
    • comprehensive agronomic information unavailable
    • lack of information on and understanding of food safety issues (safety, product handling and food preparation) ∑ research-base very small


    • create new wealth and employment, nationally and regionally (including Aboriginal communities)
    • exploit areas where food is not currently produced and establish new cropping industries
    • combine cropping with environmental remediation and conservation
    • search for, create and exploit new markets at home and abroad
    • use the expertise of the established food industry in adding value to native foods
    • interact positively with and strengthen other Australian industries, such as tourism
    • foster an interest in Australian tradition and culture


    • lack of species-specific safety data, fact sheets and standards acceptable to end-users and regulators
    • lack of promotion and training (from grower through to consumer)
    • inappropriate price structures and opportunity hunters
    • under-investment arising from lack of recognition of the industry as a sound and professional business activity
    • restriction of access to and use of genetic resources and bush supplies

    1. James, P. "Bushfoods........A vision for the future". In "Bush Food Seminar Papers & Proceedings", February, 1994. 4 pages

    2. ANBIC. "Business and Marketing Paper". Proceedings "Culture of the Land; Cuisine of the People" Conference, May, 1996. 40 pages

    3. Graham, C. and Hart, D. "Prospects for the Australian Native Bushfood Industry". RIRDC Research Paper No.97/22. 74 pages. Note additional updated estimates have been provided by Vic Cherikoff (2001)