AgriFutures grant builds capacity for Australia’s Indigenous-led Kakadu plum industry

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For almost 60 years, Leila Nimbadja has been wild-harvesting Kakadu plum from her ancestral homelands in West Arnhem in the Northern Territory.

“My mother used to take me out and we’d stay overnight (and collect Kakadu plum),” Leila said. “She would pass on all her knowledge to me and tell me about what she did when she was young, so everything I know about Kakadu plum is from my mum.”

The Kakadu plum, known by many names across various Indigenous language groups, including gubinge and manmarlak, has been eaten and used as a traditional medicine by Australia’s Indigenous people for thousands of years.

Kakadu plum is primarily wild-harvested by hand in the Kimberly region of WA, NT and QLD.

In recent years, Kakadu plum has been found to contain the highest levels of vitamin C of any fruit in the world and holds more than five times the antioxidants of blueberries, propelling its reputation as a superfood with skyrocketing demand.

AgriFutures Australia is supporting the development of the native foods industry through research to build production, attract investment and drive market demand for native food products such as Kakadu plum.

Leila, a Gurr-goni woman and senior traditional owner, coordinates the annual Kakadu plum harvest for Maningrida Wild Foods, a social enterprise that creates economic opportunities to allow local indigenous people to live on-country in their traditional homelands.

She teaches others how and when to pick the fruit, how to keep it fresh and how to plant and care for young trees she propagates in a nursery.

“I want my knowledge about bush foods to be passed down to the kids and other people in the community,” Leila said.

The Kakadu plum harvest occurs between March and July and is an important cultural activity for the local community.

Maningrida Wild Foods began operating in 2018 and its first one-tonne bulk order of Kakadu Plum, harvested by about 100 traditional landowners over a month-long period was shipped from Maningrida to Darwin in 2019.

Since then, Kakadu plums from Maningrida Wild Foods have found their way onto plates at some of Australia’s top restaurants, including Melbourne’s celebrated Attica as well as into fruit juices, spice mixes, preserves, energy drinks, wellness products, nutraceuticals and cosmetics.

Leila said she and other Kakadu plum harvesters had very limited knowledge and understanding about what happened to the product once it was flown or shipped out of the NT.

“They say to me, ‘what are you going to make with them?’ and I don’t know,” she said.

Thanks to a capacity building travel grant from AgriFutures Australia, Leila recently made the long journey from Maningrida to south-east QLD to learn more about how Kakadu plum is processed for the commercial market.

“We are delighted to be able to provide opportunities that generate growth for our emerging industries, but also build capacity and capability, in this instance of Australia’s Indigenous communities,” said Dr Olivia Reynolds, Emerging Industries Senior Manager.

As part of the trip, Leila joined Paul Saeki from the Northern Australia Aboriginal Kakadu Plum Alliance (NAAKPA) and Margaret Hogan from Bawinanga Aboriginal Corporation on a tour of several processing facilities to learn about other areas of the native foods supply chain.

NAAKPA, a co-operative of Aboriginal owned enterprises that ethically wild-harvest and supply Kakadu plum, makes up about 30-40 percent of the national annual production.

“A lot of our producers have so far been focused on things like growing and packing quality but now it’s really important for them to understand the rest of the supply chain,” Mr Saeki said.

“We want to bring our producers along that journey to build their knowledge and awareness.”

Mr Saeki said the emerging Kakadu plum industry faces several challenges including its remote location, low production volumes and the knowledge and capability to meet demand and market opportunities.

“To grow these enterprises for Indigenous communities, they have to integrate into the mainstream supply chain and in order to do that, they need to understand something about it,” he said.

“English is also probably the fourth or fifth language for a lot of people who are harvesting off-country.”

Leila said sharing her learned experience with the Maningrida community will help Indigenous communities understand the value of their resources, provide a source of income and ensure important traditional knowledge is protected and passed onto the next generation.

During the visit to south-east QLD, the group also attended the World Social Enterprise Forum and toured the Queensland Government’s Food Pilot Plant.

Read the latest Kakadu plum industry report
Learn more about the AgriFutures Emerging Industries Program
Subscribe to the Emerging Industries mailing list to receive project updates

 

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