Bush food guides seek to boost indigenous industry – but others fear exploitation

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Some indigenous food producers fear that the how-to guides on bush food production do not protect their cultural property in an industry dominated by non-indigenous people.

Western Australia’s Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development (DPIRD) last week released two guides as resources to promote new Aboriginal bush food businesses.

The free guides cover product development, financing, and the cultural and legal obligations of starting and running a bush food business.

WAA Minister of Agriculture Alannah MacTiernan hopes the guides “will stimulate the success and representation of indigenous businesses in the bush food industry.”

The Noongar Land Enterprise Group estimates that non-Indigenous people receive over 98% of profits from Australian bush products.

Acacia seeds harvested by indigenous food producers in WA.(Provided: Michael Baldwin)

“We tried to solve this problem – we produced an Ngooka honey, and we did a lot of work around intellectual property and cultural integrity. [of bush produce]”said Oral McGuire, group manager and Beverley bush producer.

He is concerned that guides do not protect the cultural assets of indigenous peoples or prevent non-indigenous people from developing indigenous food industries without them.

Business opportunity, cultural good

The day after the guides were published, the DPIRD organized a business development day for 50 Indigenous people wishing to start bush food businesses.

“Yes, it is difficult to grasp all the depths of knowledge, connections and issues associated with bush foods. [in the documents], but I think we did a pretty good job of getting something useful and practical, ”said Melissa Hartmann, Director of Indigenous Economic Development at DPIRD.

Ms Hartmann pointed out that the guides were produced after two years of consultation with the Aborigines of Australia.

the covers of the two bush food guides
The guides are available free online.(Provided: DPIRD)

“From DPIRD’s perspective, it’s about building knowledge around business development and giving people the tools they need to move their business forward.

“Once they’re in business, there is a range of programs, including food and business support, which are possible through the department. “

However, McGuire has doubts about commercialization as a goal in itself, having seen the cultural value of several native species erode as their commercial value increases.

“The sandalwood industry has completely destroyed the cultural value of sandalwood, which is a native species for many indigenous groups,” he said.

“They make gin and alcohol with [wattle seed]. Should aboriginal people be involved in the production of beer, gin or scotch when these are causing serious problems in our communities? “

Mr. McGuire runs Yaraguia, a farm in Western Australia that produces a range of bush foods using Noongar’s cultivation techniques.

“Once [bush produce] in the hands of entrepreneurs and people persuaded by the dollar, it’s completely out of control. “

“Investing in Indigenous Peoples”

Even among the indigenous people who support the commercial expansion of bush food, opinions are divided on how best to support it.

When Tahn Donovan started her own indigenous bush feeding business, she struggled with all the bureaucratic and administrative hurdles covered in DPIRD guides.

However, for her, the biggest hurdles were financial.

A woman in front of the hills and the red grasses of Pilbara.
Tahn Donovan in the Pilbara.(Provided: Michael Baldwin)

“If someone had said they could invest, it would have been a heck of a helping hand for me,” Ms. Donovan said.

For Gerry Matera, supplier and retailer of indigenous foods, securing the intellectual property and market access routes of indigenous peoples is essential.

“Guides are a start. There are the right people there and it’s good to have aboriginal people at the table, ”he said.

“But the entire indigenous food movement needs an overhaul.

“In Queensland they’ve passed intellectual property (intellectual property) laws. There absolutely has to be a rule or a process around that.”


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