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Farming Native Plants & Animals

ABC Radio

Broadcast on Saturday 8/3/2003

The FATE program at the Australian Museum promotes the
sustainable commercial use of native plant and animal
species as a way of preserving them in the long term.


Well that move towards the better use of naturally occurring resources, such as native grasses, is the basis of a program gathering momentum at the Australian Museum.

FATE , or the Future of Australia’s Threatened Ecosystems, is working towards the greater commercialisation of native plant and animal species as a way of conserving them.

Senior Project Officer, Peter Ampt is calling for a revolution in the way land is currently being used. He cites the emergence of new bush food partnerships with indigenous communities as an example of how both the land and the livelihoods of locals can be enhanced.

Peter Ampt: There are certain Australian native foods that have potential for a relatively large industry, which will attract broader commercial interests, and will generate a lot of product for a burgeoning demand both domestically and internationally. Like for example, wattleseed, it’s got great potential, and there’s other good examples of that: lemon myrtle might be another. But are flavours that are quite unique and they’re producible and they can be utilised by food processors all over the world. What that does is it provides a focus for Australian native foods to get wider acceptance.

Now there are thousands then of other products that will probably never be commercial, but there will be the possibility of a viable cottage industry on a local level.

Alexandra de Blas:How can you then extend this work to areas, say the rangelands, where you want to get stock out of there?

Peter Ampt: Well one of the big issues in the Western division of New South Wales and in the rangelands in general, as you go further west, is that the pastoral industries have been struggling for a long time. There have been notable events and the current drought is a good example, where pastoralism has come to its knees, more or less. So what’s happened is the areas are being basically completely destocked at the moment, because the land won’t sustain the animals under a time of drought. So what we’re saying is that there are a range of products that are based on native species that could at least return comparable profit to the existing pastoral industry. That wouldn’t be hard because there hasn’t been a lot of profit in that industry in the rangelands, apart from in very good years. There is an alternative there. For example, native timber resources, but a high value timber that could be harvested at extremely low rates.

Alexandra de Blas:Like what?

Peter Ampt: Well there’s Dharawal, is an example, and there’s about ten other boutique timbers that are listed as being economically viable and for which there’s a world-wide market, a small market, but a significant market.

Alexandra de Blas:For what sort of uses?

Peter Ampt: Things like musical instruments, high quality knife handles, sculptural or architectural purposes, a whole range of things like that. There are resources of these products that only need to be harvested at a very low level to gain a return for a landholder that’s comparable to many pastoral returns that they would get. There is then also the potential for the landholders to get involved in kangaroo management and we’re trying to work with the kangaroo industry to make it possible that landholders value-add to make it better for the industry so that they get a return from kangaroo harvesting on their property as well. There is also the potential for the native food products, so plantings of particular native foods that are well adapted to their environments so they will survive times of drought. There are watering points to get them established quickly in the dry environment, and then they should be able to survive well even in drought times, once they’re established. So that can return to the landholders, even during the dry times when pastoralism doesn’t return anything at all.

Alexandra de Blas:Are there many of these products about at the moment?

Peter Ampt: I guess that’s one of the reasons why we’re excited about Outback Spirit. It’s because there are a significant number of product, but the market for them at the moment is very small. But the fact that Outback Spirit is in Coles Myer across Australia means that these products have a potential in the mainstream. They don’t have to take a huge chunk of the market to return significantly to the landholders that get involved in them. And what we’re hoping is that we can encourage growth, simultaneous, gradual growth of supply and demand, rather than one being out of step with the other.

Alexandra de Blas: Peter Ampt, from the FATE program at the Australian Museum.

The Outback Spirit brand of indigenous food he was referring to there is being launched in Sydney this week, and will be for sale in Coles supermarkets around the country.

It’s a venture working with Indigenous Australian Foods Limited, a not-for-profit company which distributes funds back to Aboriginal suppliers to improve the propagation and harvesting of native food species.

Juleigh Robins from Robins Australian Foods, owns 30% of the IAF company, and says the new venture is stepping away from the traditional model.

Juleigh Robins: Aboriginal people have been involved in the native food industry, but have been involved in a very traditional way by and large. And that means they’ve been out gathering food from the desert for example, in wild harvest. That means the food is not cultivated, they just go out when it’s in season and gather it in, and then they sell it on to us. What we wanted to do was to try and form a company or an entity that a number of different communities throughout the country could find a commercial entry point into the industry. There’s a lot of interest in native food agriculture in the traditional agricultural arena, but this would affect a lot of the traditional Aboriginal suppliers because obviously as something is cultivated in a traditional European way, it brings the price of that commodity down. It was important to make sure that the traditional suppliers, and knowledge holders about this food were in fact looked after in some way. So out of that concern, IAF was created and what this does, all the product that Robin’s Foods will use, is bought in through IAF whether it comes from the Aboriginal community or not, and Robin’s pay IAF not only the purchase price but a 10% premium on top of the purchase price, which is then dispersed by the IAF board back to the communities to help community development programs.

Alexandra de Blas:How do you ensure that these products are actually harvested in a sustainable way so that people don’t exploit the environment for a short-term profit?

Juleigh Robins: Apart from being an Aboriginal-controlled company, we also have as our I suppose prime objective that the product be harvested in a sustainable way. And so IAF has a very productive program, not only of keeping the people in the wild harvest arena in the loop and ensuring that that’s done in a sustainable fashion, but also offering opportunities for those communities to move beyond wild harvest, and actually start getting in to some sort of cultivation. Whether that be a very simple cultivation, where it might be just plants around a homelands area that they might harvest, or whether in fact they might want to go further and get into a European model of agriculture. So there are opportunities there and with the funding and the expertise within IAF, we’re able to offer a whole raft of support to communities to help them move into that cultivation and also into value-adding activities. Rather than just sell us the commodity, let’s start to devolve some of the value-adding processes back to communities and we’re in the process of doing that as well.

Alexandra de Blas:Juleigh Robins from Robins Australian Foods.

And next up, more on learning from traditional indigenous knowledge about plants.

Guests on this program:

Peter Ampt
Senior Project Officer
Future of Australia's Threatened Ecosystems (FATE) program
Australian Museum 

Juleigh Robins
Robins Australian Foods

Further information:

Future for Australia's Threatened Ecosystems
A program of the Australian Museum

Alexandra de Blas


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