Skin products and health drinks may soon be ripe with a quintessentially Northern Territory ingredient if a proposal to commercially harvest Kakadu plums gets off the ground.
- The traditional medicine market is estimated to be worth up to $115 billion globally
- The plan could help secure more control for traditional owners
- A trial harvest would test environmental impacts
Traditional owners of Kakadu National Park are hoping to use their land to cultivate inroads into the traditional medicine market — an industry they have estimated to be worth up to $115 billion globally.
The ambitious plan by the Gundjeihmi Aboriginal Corporation to wild harvest the plums — a small, green native food with proven health benefits due to its high levels of vitamin C — was released on Tuesday for comment.
“Traditional Australian medicinal plants remain an underdeveloped biological, cultural and economic resource, despite the increasing global popularity of traditional and natural medicines from other parts of the world,” the proposal read.
If successful, the plan could see a thriving Indigenous agricultural workforce bolstered in the world heritage-listed area, around 250 kilometres south-east of Darwin.
“With Australian natural healthcare and agriproducts enjoying an international reputation for their quality and clean, green image, enabling the development of a local industry with Indigenous wellbeing and medicinal plants at its base represents huge opportunities in areas of Indigenous workforce development, sustainable regional development in Northern Australia, and export of uniquely Australian products,” the proposal says.
The proposal goes on to claim that Kakadu plums have been attracting interest as an ingredient globally for use in goods from “health drinks and food-preserving products to skin treatments and natural medicines”.
The area for a proposed harvest would cover about 10,000 hectares of Aboriginal-owned land on the north-eastern edge of the national park.
Plum way to give back Aboriginal land
Off the back of a recent successful native title win by the Mirarr people over a large section of the Jabiru township, the plan for a Kakadu plum industry could help their case for further land claims in the region.
The Kakadu plum proposal suggests that if the commercial harvesting plan is successful, it could be a “a small but important step … towards Aboriginal administration, management, and control, a fundamental obligation established in the foundation charter for the park, the Kakadu lease”.
Responsibility for managing the bulk of Kakadu currently rests with Parks Australia, an arm of the Commonwealth Government.
“We do need to have the funds available to support these parks, but the actual management of the parks, there’s absolutely no reason why it can’t be done by traditional owner groups,” he said.
The Kakadu plum plan could also prove to be a novel method of helping to rehabilitate land previously cleared for mining, pastoral industry and road clearing.
“Bininj/Mungguy residents and traditional owners wish to explore options to carry out this rehabilitation work themselves, funded in part through revenues from sale of the fruit of the Kakadu plum, which they propose would form an important component of the suite of species used to rehabilitate such sites,” the proposal read.
Trial harvest to test impact
A trial harvest period of two years would take place before the full-scale operation launches, according to the plan.
During the trial, the Gundjeihmi Aboriginal Corporation expects to haul in a total harvest of between 4,000 and 8,000 kilograms of fruit per year.
Gundjeihmi chief executive Justin O’Brien said Kakadu plums were “a product that had been utilised for traditional purposes for many thousands of years” and the bolstered industry could have wide-ranging benefits for Indigenous Territorians.
“There’s a lot of opportunity in developing the industry,” he said.
“It’s got many challenges — the supply side, demand needs to be carefully thought through … and a lot of it needs to be better led by Indigenous groups.”
Submissions into the proposal can be made on the Parks Australia website until December 11.
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