developing a value chain for indigenous plant foods

14th November, 2019

WG Enterprises provides economic opportunities, assisting individuals into employment and creating sustainable, Aboriginal-owned and operated commercial enterprises. This organisation is now leading a project to create a new value chain for Indigenous plant products in the region.

The project is a G21 Agribusiness Strategy implementation supported initiative that aims to develop a regional food supply chain for novel Indigenous plant inputs to emerging artisan and small to medium food manufacturers.

Despite 40,000 years or more as part of Australians’ staple diets, Indigenous plant foods have not yet been fully embraced by the mainstream food industry in the 21st century. Australian native foods is a tiny sector, currently worth around $30 to $45 million, but is beginning to attract domestic and international interest.

Demand currently far exceeds supply. The number of agricultural producers in the industry is small, and the majority of bush foods come from variable wild harvest. Many commonly known Indigenous food plants, such as Kakadu plum, bush tomato, macadamia, and finger limes, originate in northern Australia.

WG’s project identifies native foods that originate in southern Australia, and south-western Victoria in particular, that are viable for commercial cultivation and have culinary applications. The range is diverse, encompassing fresh and dried products and food ingredients. The project includes trial production and trial commercial scale production for plants which often grow better in a polyculture, rather than monoculture environment, and for which there has been very little genetic improvement to achieve food production objectives such as greater yield, larger fruit or leaf size, or faster growth rates.

There is further potential to supply product extracts such as oils, protein, and vitamins for food and non‐food applications – for example, nutraceuticals.

Establishing a new food production social enterprise to meet the needs of participating manufacturers is the first step towards a sustainable market for local Indigenous foods. Ongoing employment outcomes for Indigenous people, through engagement in a bush foods social enterprise, offer social and commercial benefits.

The project harnesses the expertise, connections and existing customer bases of a broad network of supply chain partners. Substantial logistics, distribution and manufacturing capacity, along with sophisticated business and technical services, are available in the G21 region to support a well-developed, comprehensive supply chain.

“With the support of the G21 Agribusiness Strategy we’re building interest from food processors, manufacturers, distributors and retailers to develop bush foods as part of their range or as ingredients to new products,” said Shannon Collyer, Chief Executive Officer of WG Enterprises.

“We have been contacted by businesses from all over Australia seeking bush foods, however we’ve decided to target businesses throughout regional Victoria and Melbourne, with a strong focus on western Victoria and the G21 region, to map supply chains for various products and establish a strong presence for Indigenous food production and supply that goes towards supporting our region.”

A collaborative approach that benefits all partners is key to the project. WG’s project takes this collaborative spirit a step further, with results and findings to be open source, contributing to a robust Indigenous business sector in Victoria.