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3 August 2007
FIONA WALSH: As an ethno-ecologist I'm looking at the cross cultural exchanges and trade of bush foods for sale to wholesalers who are based in Alice Springs.
We know that there's about 20 communities who have been trading bush foods over the last five years or so and some of those are 300 to 500 kilometres away, so they're long distances.
We go out as much as possible on trips to country where those plants are available for collecting and observe the processes of collecting and we're learning about the ecological knowledge that people have about where those plants are available, what their local language names are, what they understand of the ecology of their plants in terms of the cultural side of it.
Part of our role is to let Aboriginal people know that this demand and interest is expanding and to identify and ask them, 'What role do you want in this? Do you want to just sell bush foods or do you want to know more about the wider bush food industry and get involved in that?'
RAYLEAN BROWN: I like to use local, local wholesalers basically to support local industry. There's a wholesaler in town that I get all the bush tomato from. He also has a nice product that's a dukkha that we use as well, in our entrees or in breads or marinating. We also have wattle seed so we do lots of wattle seed dampers. Instead of having the normal dinner roll on buffet we'll have wattle seed dampers.
The qualities to me are - with the bush tomato especially - it's a great source of Vitamin C. It's related to the tomato but it's like a boost, a big boost of Vitamin C or Vitamin B so that if you have a handful of bush tomato it's like eating about eight oranges.'
FIONA WALSH: Almost 100% of that bush tomato production that goes to national and international markets comes from this region of Central Australia, an area about 1000 square ks.
The other group of products, which are the focus of our work, are the acacia seeds. There's four wholesalers who operate in Central Australia and their role is very diverse. They order produce from harvesters. To do that they have to monitor and know what's available when. They drive in their cars hundreds of kilometres. They weight, clean, store produce and trade it usually paying cash or cheque in hand.
PETER YATES: Responses have ranged from not really interested in some places to absolutely astounding responses. There's one community called Epinara, to the north west of where we are now, sorry the north east, and they had three weeks' notice that we wanted seed and I went up there expecting to get a few bags and I ended up leaving with over a tonne and I paid out over $11,000 into that community.'
FIONA WALSH: The Cooperative Research Centre, Desert Knowledge, is involved in some research looking at horticultural production. No-one knows yet what the quality of that end product is like. I mean it's expected that by being grown in horticulture it will produce a more even and steady supply to sort of even out those seasonal variations that we see with bush harvested products.
It will probably be that larger quantities are able to be produced.
My vision for the future is for Aboriginal people to have a strong role and to be involved and to have a voice. I think it's really important that we support people out on country to continue bush harvest and for people to be sort of honest and respectful and valuing what Aboriginal people contribute.
I've been involved in this project for 18 months and in that time it has built very quickly. The media interest, public interest is escalating rapidly. The demand for products at the wholesalers we supply have increased from two and a half tonne over two years were sold to there's demand for five tonnes in one year. So interest and demand has sort of gone quickly.
RAYLEAN BROWN: We have great potential for Central Australia to become involved in such a great industry and we have such a marketing tool here. The food, desert foods, like it comes from here, so when people come to Alice Springs as visitors, they want to taste the food. Food is such a big part of travel.'
FIONA WALSH: Lots of people who we have spoken to have no idea what happens to the things that they're selling in terms of the jams and chutneys and pickles and ice-creams and toothpaste, that things they're selling are being turned into.
The importance lies in those people being recognised. There is this concept of 'hidden harvest' where consumers and processors don't know where the product's come from and by working with Aboriginal people we're able to show the origin in terms of production but also the cultural knowledge that has underpinned its availability for thousands of years.