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Native food

AG0686
Farm Diversification Information Service, Bendigo
September 2002

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This Agriculture Note provides information on native food.

Product

Australia has a unique and wonderful array of native foods, ranging from fruits, nuts, berries, herbs and vegetables and the Australian aborigines used these for centuries.

It is really only since the 1980's that real interest has been taken in looking at these native food species and attempts made to commercialise the more attractive ones.

The characteristics of plants with the greatest potential include; a good, unique flavour; easy to harvest, handle, transport and store; easy to process; already have an existing, or likely potential, demand; relatively easy to propagate and that the likely agronomy or production methods are well understood; and there does not appear to be any major obstacles to successful cultivation.

Quite a few attempts have been made to identify those species with the most potential and, whilst there is variation from region to region, most lists include all or most of the following; Acacias, Bush Tomatoes, Citrus, Davidson Plums, Illawarra Plums, Lemon Aspen, Lemon Myrtle, Mountain Pepper, Muntries, Quandong, Riberries and a variety of vegetable and herb crops.

Traditionally, most of the native foods have been wild harvested but as demand has increased, there have been requirements for a more consistent and reliable supply, plus the need for environmental and food safety has resulted in increased interest in cultivated production, which has presented new opportunities but has also brought about its own unique problems.

The current commercial Australian native plant food industry is estimated to be worth about $16 million per annum.

Physical Requirements

Apart from some of the more well known species such as quandongs, there is still incomplete knowledge of the physical requirements that the various plant species need, and certainly there is very little published on these requirements. What is recommended is that, for people interested in planting native food species, they should contact one of the various regional groups listed on the Australian Native Food Industry website (listed below) and tap into their knowledge as to the best species for a particular area and climate.

Production

Once again, in most cases, the production knowledge for many of these native species is still being developed and most of the knowledge resides with people in the regions who are pioneering these cultivation methods. There is an increasing number of publications (see References below) from which aspiring producers can glean information but there is still a lot to learn and new producers are well advised to start small and not commit too much money and resources in the initial stages.

Marketing

Most native plant foods are being sold for minimal processing or value added products. Unlike most traditional horticultural crops where a large proportion is sold and eaten fresh, currently there is very little native food sold as fresh food. This is due to the small intermittent supplies (which makes it unattractive for fresh market outlets to stock) and the inherent characteristics of many native foods, especially the small size of many of the products, which turn off many consumers.

However, as supplies increase, those foods which are generally acceptable in their characteristics, such as muntries and some of the native citrus, should find ready markets in the fresh food outlets. However, in the immediate future, processors will be the major marketing outlet and so it is vital that prospective growers establish contact and have some sort of contract for their products.

Once again, the local and regional groups and companies are the best sources of market information

Financial Aspects

The industry is very young, and it is virtually impossible to quantify production costs. You need to contact local sources of seed and possible market outlets to establish likely costs and possible returns.

Organisations and Contacts

Southern Bushfood Association
President, David Thompson
RMB 7390A Wartook Vic. 3401
Phone 03 5383 6247
Email dinkum@netconnect.com.au

Prom Country Bushfood Production and Marketing South Gippsland Shire Council Contact Jeanie Hicks Ph. 035662 9100

A list of Australian processors and marketers can be found on the ANFI web site (see below)

References

Web sites Bushfood handbooks
  • Cherikoff and Isaacs, "The Bush Food Handbook" Ti Tree Press, Sydney,1989
  • Gott and Zola, "Koorie Plants, Koorie People" Koorie Heritage Trust, Melbourne,1992
  • Isaacs, Jennifer, "Bush Food" Weldon Publishing, Sydney, 1987
  • Low, Tim, "Bush Tucker; Australia's Wild Food Harvest" Angus @ Robertson, Pymble, 1991
  • Martin et al, "Edible Wattleseeds of Southern Australia" CSIRO
  • Smith, Keith and Irene, "Grow your own Bush Foods" New Holland, 1999
  • Nicholson, Nan and Hugh, "Australian Rainforest Plants" Vols. 1-4,1992-1994
RIRDC Publications
  • 1996 ANBIC/RIRDC Conference "Culture of the land; Cuisine of the People"
  • 1997 "Prospects for the Australian Native Bushfood Industry" by Graham and Hart.
  • 2000 "Marketing the Australian Native Food Industry" V.Cherikoff, Pub. No. 00/06
  • 2001 "Food Safety of Australian Plant Bushfoods" by M and E Hegarty 1998-2002 R & D Plan for the Australian Native Food Industry
Other references
  • Whitten, Greg, "Herbal Harvest, Commercial Production of Quality Dried Herbs in Australia" Available through NRE (Vic) bookshops
  • Robins, Juleigh "Cooking from the Bush Food Garden" Allen and Unwin, 1996

The advice provided in this publication is intended as a source of information only. Always read the label before using any of the products mentioned. The State of Victoria and its employees do not guarantee that the publication is without flaw of any kind or is wholly appropriate for your particular purposes and therefore disclaims all liability for any error, loss or other consequence which may arise from you relying on any information in this publication.



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This document was reviewed on 13/09/2004.