Bushfoods bring Indigenous knowledge to mainstream markets

10 October 2022

Australia’s increasingly diverse food culture is benefitting from the wider recognition of Indigenous bush foods, which University of Queensland Professor Henrietta Marrie AM said must be brought to the mainstream in ways that combine traditional knowledge systems with science.

Professor Marrie is an Aboriginal Australian from Yidinji tribe and a Member of the Order of Australia for her service to education and as an advocate of Indigenous and cultural heritage and intellectual property rights.

Her work on the development of traditional foods through the Australian Research Council training centre for Uniquely Australian Foods will be the feature of her plenary speech at this year’s TropAg International Conference in Brisbane, titled ‘Future of First Nations food systems and emerging trends’.

Headshot of Prof Henrietta Marrie AM
Professor Henrietta Marrie AM 

While Australia has a growing bushfood industry, Professor Marrie said not enough has been done to centre Indigenous people in this market.

“In Australia, we need to treasure the knowledge system of Indigenous people and work at how to bring their food to the table in a way that exposes the varieties that we have in Australia and how it can be part of everyone’s table,” Professor Marrie said.

“We want to show that Australia does have this food culture, and it includes food that is part of Australia, not just food brought in from the west.” 

Traditional Australian foods were projected to be a million-dollar market when they first emerged in the 1980s.  

But Professor Marrie said while the market has exceeded projections, primarily non-Indigenous people have benefited, and more Indigenous people must be included in all levels of production of traditional foods.

“We need more collaboration with First Nations people – at a local, national and international level – to see how we can combine the knowledge system of an ancient culture with modern science,” she said.

“Combining traditional systems of knowledge on traditional food and western systems is so very crucial.”

She said the challenges include access to land to grow food, finding ways to commercialise foods in an ever-changing economic climate, as well as the growing pressures of climate change.

“In the past, the territorial management systems allowed for adjustments to changing migratory patterns and climate variation,” Professor Marrie said.

Hands holding green coloured kakadu plums
Kakadu plums 

“The current situation and pressures are now placing Indigenous people in difficult conditions to counteract that.

“So, they see their territories and livelihoods suffering and having a profound impact on their lives both in and out of their communities.”

Professor Marrie said progress in the industry must protect the rights of Indigenous people to their traditional knowledge, which meant helping more Indigenous people gain the expertise to promote and protect their culture in the food industry.

“We need to bring them into universities, hopefully doing degrees that would help them to then take the lead in how they can safely use their products and protect their property rights.”

Professor Marrie said while there are large-scale changes to be made, such as better intellectual property laws for protecting Indigenous knowledge, it is ultimately up to local communities to take charge of safeguarding their knowledge.

She is looking forward to the TropAg conference as a place to bring attention to the potential of traditional foods and collaborate on innovative solutions.

“This conference comes at a really good time when the traditional food industry is really starting to make a mark,” Professor Marrie said.

“I hope that everyone who attends will question what they are doing in terms of science and traditional knowledge systems associated with traditional plants and agriculture.

“That's what I'm looking forward to, learning from each other and coming up with far more innovative ideas in putting bushfood up there with every other culinary practice that we do in this country.”

The conference is hosted by The University of Queensland in partnership with the Queensland Government via the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries. TropAg is backed by generous sponsors exhibitors and media partners. View the full list of supporters from the TropAg website.

Media contacts: Natalie MacGregor, QAAFI Communications n.macgregor@uq.edu.au, +61 (0)409 135 651; Sophie Ader QAAFI Engagement Officer s.ader@uq.edu.au +61 (0)421 869 003.

Supporting information:

Global Agriculture Leadership Initiative https://www.agriculture.gov.au/biosecurity-trade/market-access-trade/global-agriculture-advocacyTropAg website 


TropAg conference program 

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