Bush foods are becoming increasingly popular. Demand is growing and there is a pressing need to develop and adopt best practice methods that empower Aboriginal people to lead this industry whilst protecting the health of the natural environment.
The Enhancing the Skills and Capacity of Native Food Producers and Enriching Ecosystems project is funded through the Australian Government’s National Landcare Program. It contributes to sustainable and community-based economic opportunities for Aboriginal people, using traditional lands and the plants that grow there. We are working with Karajarri Traditional Lands Association, Karajarri Rangers, Emama Nguda Aboriginal Corporation, Nyamba Buru Yawuru Jarndu Country Managers, North Regional TAFE, and others, to support training, build skills and capacity, re-establish natural bush orchards and enhance collections through savannah enrichment.
The project is supporting the growth and development of the Aboriginal-led Kimberley bush resources industry. Activities include:
• developing two best-practice guidelines for sustainable and effective harvesting of native plants for commercial purposes
• working with groups and training providers to establish savannah enrichment sites for native foods such as Gubinge/Nyaminyari (Kakadu Plum) over four hectares
• developing people’s skills in sustainable wild-harvesting methods and savannah enrichment, through training in seed collection and cleaning, wattleseed product-development and other workshops, and subsidising people to undertake savannah enrichment courses at TAFE
• developing a better understanding of Kimberley Acacia seed and its potential market by mapping pilot sites and measuring harvest rates and collection quantities, while also investigating sustainable harvesting methods, nutritional qualities, market potential and distribution.
What we have been doing
We have been working with Karajarri Rangers and Elders to collect seed from a variety of species and build skills in collecting viable seed, seed cleaning and storage. In January 2020, we collected nyaminyari, or Kakadu Plum. Nyaminyari is known to have good commercial value and we collected the seed for the purpose of growing it and planting it, amongst other plants, in a Karajarri bush food and medicine garden, at Punturrpunturr (the old Bird Park, Port Smith). We were joined by Karajarri Ranger and plant expert Jacqueline Shovellor and traditional owners for the Mirntanymartaji (Gourdon Bay) area Jimmy and Joe Edgar, as well as Karajarri Traditional Owners Celia Bennett, Renae Hopiga and Diane Hopiga. Bobbie Chew Bigby, a PhD candidate with Notre Dame University, joined the field trip to take photos and support the project.
In addition to collecting nyaminyari seed, we have been exploring wattleseed abundance, collection methods and distribution. From August through to October 2020, we collected wattleseed from three species, Acacia colei, A. tumida and A. eriopoda, in the Broome area. With support from the Nyamba Buru Yawuru Jarndu Country Managers, and North Regional TAFE, we were able to measure collection times and volume by species, and compare methods. We trialled and timed different cleaning and sorting methods.
Mapping of bush resources
In 2020, we mapped several locations with the Karajarri Women Rangers. We visited the ecologically and culturally valuable Swale Thickets of Mirntanymartaji (Gourdon Bay), as well as areas near Bidyadanga community with a high density of wattles and useful plants. We surveyed the flowering and fruiting stages of plants and mapped the area using a drone. Collecting high resolution images at various points in time will help the rangers manage their plant resources and landscapes into the future. These maps can help ascertain the size and location of important plants, changes over seasons and recovery from events such as drought, flooding and fire.
Advancing certification and protecting Aboriginal knowledge workshop
An Aboriginal-led bush resources industry for the Kimberley will improve autonomy and financial returns to communities. We have been working with University of NSW Professor Daniel Robinson and Scientia Fellow Dr Margaret Raven through their ARC Discovery Project: Indigenous Knowledge Futures: Protecting and Promoting Indigenous Knowledge and WA enterprise development organisation, Impact Seed. Together we held a workshop where participants could explore the benefits of advancing certification for an Aboriginal-led industry. We have also introduced the ARC Discovery project, run through University of NSW, which supports Aboriginal people in understanding property laws and ways to protect and promote traditional knowledge through community protocols, while operating in the bush resources sector. Aboriginal people, businesses and groups in need of support in this sector can email Professor Daniel Robinson and Dr Margaret Raven for more information.
Growing bush foods
In February 2021, we worked with North Regional TAFE to deliver a savannah enrichment course at both their Broome nursery and their demonstration site, Balu Buru, 12 Mile. The course combined learning how to propagate native seeds with implementing the savannah enrichment methodology. The method works to increase the abundance of target plants, such as nyaminyarri, within a bush setting. It is gentler than traditional agriculture as it keeps the natural vegetation intact, there is no clearing of areas for horticultural plantings and, as a result, significantly less weed control is required. Growing these bush foods in their natural settings mean they require low water and nutrient input. The method enhances establishment and fruit production by using low-flow drip irrigation delivered directly to the plant. The training attracted 20 students, many of whom were from Aboriginal ranger groups; the others were interested people from the Broome community. The end result was the establishment of a one-hectare demonstration site, featuring a mixed, multi-storey planting, from rainforest to savannah environments.
In addition to the establishment of the demonstration site at Balu Buru, we are working with Karajarri to establish their bush tucker and medicine garden at Punturrpunturr, and with Emama Nguda Aboriginal Corporation, in Derby, to establish a bush foods plantation to regenerate lands previously used for intensive agriculture. The methods for establishing these sites align with the savannah enrichment principles: to enhance or regenerate the bush and allow for the establishment of sustainable economic opportunities into the future.
The Seed collection and propagation guide for Plants of the Kimberley provides advice and tips for collecting, storing and propagating seed of 41 plants that occur in the west Kimberley and beyond. The guide includes sustainable harvest guidelines to ensure collectors follow legal and cultural protocols, as well as care for the bush. It was initiated as part of the Kimberley Community Seedbank (KCS) Project, funded through the Western Australia Natural Resource Management Program (State NRM).
You can download a low-resolution here or printed copies are available for $15 with all proceeds going towards re-prints of Environs Kimberley publications. For a printed copy or further information please contact the Kimberley Community Seedbank.
The Best practice guidelines for fruit collection of Terminalia ferdinandiana was produced in consultation with local fruit pickers, traditional owner groups and the WA Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions. It is an educational resource, supporting sustainable fruit collection, now and into the future. T. ferdinandiana is known as Kabiny, Madoor, Nyaminyari, Yaminyarri, Gabiny and Gubinge in local Aboriginal languages across the west Kimberley. The guidelines encourage care for the trees, the habitat they grow in and the people who harvest them. It includes information on getting permissions as well as a map showing the boundaries of land under native title, pastoral leases and conservation reserves in the west Kimberley. You can download a low-resolution copy here.
September 2019 – December 2021
Karajarri Rangers, Karajarri Traditional Lands Association, Nyamba Buru Yawuru, Emama Nguda Aboriginal Corporation, University of New South Wales, Impact Seed, North Regional TAFE
This project is supported through funding from the Australian Government’s National Landcare — Smart Farms Program.
Links to interviews and media
'How to grow native seeds' radio interview with Ayesha Moss on Kimberley Breakfast with Vanessa Mills, ABC Kimberley, 1 Oct 2021