Wild Harvest 

Epenarra women clean nyterrm

Bush products on sale

Wild Harvest is one of a suite of Desert Knowledge Cooperative Research Centre (CRC) research projects investigating the development and sale of natural resource products in desert Australia.

In Central Australia, the commercial collection of wild harvested bush foods goes back approximately 30 years. It is not a new or recent phenomenon, but an extension of thousands of years of customary harvest.

Two bush foods that enjoy growing market demand are the bush tomatoes and various acacia seeds.

Almost all the stock supplied to the national industry is harvested by Aboriginal women using traditional knowledge and harvesting methods. An estimated 300 to 500 women participate in wild harvest throughout Central Australia.

Interest in bush foods is growing at a rapid rate and bush foods have started to appear on supermarket shelves and restaurant menus across Australia.

The Wild Harvest Reference Group was formed in response to the need for greater Aboriginal community engagement with research in this rapidly growing industry and to ensure Aboriginal harvesters benefit from it. The reference group provides strong links to wild harvesters and is made up of respected and senior cultural experts from the main desert language groups.

From the beginning the reference group were very clear about their priorities. These include a set of protocols for researchers that later could be adopted by the national industry and, the need for recognition and respect for Aboriginal knowledge and people.

Other priorities include employment of Aboriginal people in enterprises and associated R&D and, and the urgent need for wild harvest representation on peak industry bodies.

In 2006, reference group member Gina Smith, was appointed to the Australian Native Foods Industry group and a draft set of protocols have been compiled.

A future milestone for the reference group is to facilitate a number of regional workshops based on language regions. The aim is to bring harvesters together to talk about the wider industry and other associated enterprise sectors and contribute to and endorse the protocols. The organizations that will provide assistance for the workshops are the DK-CRC, CDU, CSIRO and the Central Land Council.

The bush food industry treats bush foods as commodities with a dollar value that can be traded, whereas for Aboriginal people these foods and the plants they come from are spiritually and culturally significant.

As reference group member Veronica Dobson explains, “People are related to country and plants are related to people because they come from the country. There are stories for the plants and plants are totems for people. The plants are respected when seeds and fruits are collected from them. People need to care for their totems so they don’t get destroyed. It’s a spiritual thing for people. They treat plants with respect.”

It is from this strong cultural basis that the Wild Harvest Reference Group will provide community engagement with wild harvest research and the national bush foods industry.

Wild Harvest Reference Group  members: MK Turner OAM (North Eastern Arrernte), Veronica Dobson (Eastern Arrernte), Lorna Wilson (Pitjantjatjara), Bess Price (Warlpiri), Marilyn Cavenagh (North Eastern Arrernte), Rayleen Brown (North Eastern Arrernte), Gina Smith (Warumungu) and Maree Meredith (Central Land Council representative).

The Wild Harvest Project research team is made up of CDU Indigenous Research Fellow, Josie Douglas, along with Fiona Walsh and Mitch Jones from CSIRO in Alice Springs.

Visit the Desert Knowledge CRC website.