Native superfood a cash crop for Indigenous communities

Wednesday, 04 December, 2013

The Kakadu plum puts the ‘super’ into ‘superfood’: it contains 10 times more vitamin C than oranges and more than 13 times the antioxidant content of blueberries.

The native Australian fruit will be studied as part of a University of Western Australia (UWA)-led project to explore the Kakadu plum’s viability as a cash crop for Indigenous communities.

Long used by Indigenous people for traditional food and medicine, the Kakadu plum is currently only harvested in the wild in parts of northern Australia. However, its growing popularity has driven demand, with more than 17 Australian and international companies now using it in food and healthcare products.

In Western Australia, Kakadu plums ripen in January; in the Northern Territory, they ripen in May at the onset of the dry season. They have a tart taste and can be used in jams, sauces and juices, as well as skin and hair products and vitamin supplements.

The Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation (RIRDC) has funded a project to examine how to grow Kakadu plums in commercial plantations to help Australia’s fledgling bush tucker industry expand.

Also involved in the project are the Kimberley Training Institute, the Department of Parks and Wildlife, the Northern Territory Government and Charles Darwin University. An Indigenous Steering Committee will oversee their work.

The Kimberley Training Institute, working with Aboriginal communities around Broome, has shown that Kakadu plum orchards can grow successfully. These orchards have been planted as ‘enrichment plantings’ in native bush near Aboriginal communities with supplementary irrigation.

Kakadu plum harvesting is an Aboriginal community enterprise in the tropical coastal woodlands in WA and the NT, said UWA’s Dr Liz Barbour, who will lead the project.

However, seasonal variations mean fruit crops sometimes fail due to early ripening or non-fruiting, and heavy rains at harvest time can make the fruit inaccessible. The increasing impact of fire due to climate change is also an issue.

“The project aims to create a reliable supply of high-quality fruit by supplementing the wild crop with easily accessible orchards,” Dr Barbour said.

“The process of Kakadu plum domestication starts by investigating its genetic make-up and understanding the fruit-ripening process. We will work with Aboriginal communities to provide training in collection and to establish plantings in WA and the Northern Territory.”

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