Walking the chain: information is power
New understanding of the production, processing, marketing and retailing cycle of bush tomatoes will give Aboriginal people increased opportunities in this evolving industry.
A new project called 'Walking the chain: information is power' will be managed by the Desert Knowledge CRC (DKCRC) following a grant of $80,000 from the Natural Resource Management Board (Northern Territory).
This funding will enable DKCRC to take a group of Aboriginal bush harvesters and bush food producers on a physical journey to see every stage of the process - from harvest to table - and to interlink with businesses such as wholesalers, processors, manufacturers, distributors, retailers, and restaurants.
Project leader Jenny Cleary says it is difficult for Aboriginal women involved in the wild harvest of bush tomatoes in central Australia to have a complete understanding of the value chain, especially when some of it takes place thousands of kilometres away.
Following a presentation of the value chain at a stakeholder workshop last year, some of the wild harvesters commented that it was "good to know where our food goes".
"We want to provide them with more information about the market and how it operates, so they can increase their participation in the industry, and reap greater economic return, if they choose to," Ms Cleary said.
"This project is also exciting in that everybody will benefit from this interaction, with a two-way flow of information between the different sectors and greater overall understanding of what makes the industry tick," she said.
"Additionally, we have been approached by a number of other Aboriginal people wanting to become involved in the industry. Some of these people are keen to grow bush tomatoes."
Ms Cleary reiterated that the DKCRC is committed to ensuring Aboriginal people are more than 'piece workers' in this industry, and access to information enables them to decide how they will participate.
Ms Cleary commented that she is positive about the immediate future of the industry.
"We know that more consumers want to try bush tomato products. The industry is working to meet this increased demand while dealing with climate variables associated with wild harvest, and it is important that we succeed.
"Recent rains in central Australia have improved harvest prospects, with the Desert Knowledge CRC plot of 12,000 plants looking promising," she said.
"By investigating ways of commercially growing the fruit in desert Australia, we minimise the risk to Aboriginal businesses and communities by initially taking on that risk ourselves.
"Our research can then benefit those who may want to try commercial production with the proceeds from our research trial fruit going back into further research."
Ms Cleary commented that the continuity of bush tomato supply from the desert is being addressed on a number of levels with the 'Walking the chain: information is power' project being just a part of this.
This project is funded by the Australian and Northern Territory Governments through the NT Regional Investment Strategy.
Jenny Cleary 08 8648 5172 or 0429 699 387
Lindsay Wright 08 8959 6047 or 0428 756 121