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Indigenous Australians: a Culturally Resonant, Optimistic and Secure Healthy Food Future.

A community led prosperous, sustainable and affordable healthy food and water supply on remote Indigenous Australian owned land.

Photo of Josephine Gwynn

Written by

Lead Applicant Organization Name

Poche Centre for Indigenous Health, University of Sydney

Lead Applicant Organization Type

  • Researcher Institution

If part of a multi-stakeholder entity (i.e. team), provide the names of other organizations and types of stakeholders collaborating with you.

Charles Perkins Centre University of Sydney (Researcher Institution) Sydney Food and Nutrition Network University of Sydney (Researcher Institution) Department of Education (Government) Training and Further Education (TAFE) education provider (Government) Aboriginal Land Councils (small NGO) Aboriginal Medical Services (small NGO) Aboriginal Health and Medical Research Council of New South Wales (large NGO)

Website of Legally Registered Entity

https://sydney.edu.au/medicine-health/our-research/research-centres/the-poche-centre-for-indigenous-health.html

How long have you / your team been working on this Vision?

  • 3-10 years

Lead Applicant: In what city or town are you located?

Sydney

Lead Applicant: In what country are you located?

Australia

Your Selected Place: what’s the name of the Place you’re developing a Vision for?

North Western Plains of the state of New South Wales Australia. This area covers 98,574 square kilometres.

What country is your selected Place located in?

Australia

Describe your relationship to the place you’ve selected.

 POCHE CENTRE and COMMUNITY COLLABORATIONS 

This Place has 8 years of established collaborations with the Poche Centre. These began in 2010 with requests from the Indigenous community to address children’s poor oral health. The relationship consolidated with the success of this initial work in schools and continued to develop in response to community requests for other programs and services. Whilst the Poche Centre is located in Sydney much of its work is delivered in Indigenous communities in regional and remote areas by Indigenous and non-Indigenous staff working out of Sydney or living locally. Together the Poche centre and communities have co-created oral health services, built local workforce capacity (since 2013 supporting a full-time oral health service involving 4-6 local staff) and co-designed research.

IMPROVING THE DRINKING WATER and BUILDING A HEALTHY FOOD FUTURE 

High levels of sugary drink consumption by children is a key contributor to poor oral health. The Poche Centre collaboration installed water fountains in 4 communities and 6 schools to support access to cool filtered palatable water for the first time in communities with a long history of a poor quality (odour, taste, colour), unsafe and unreliable water supply. Schools banned sugary drinks and supported a water drinking program. Building on this work, one year ago the Poche Centre commenced a nutrition program to build nutrition workforce capacity and deliver a community created nutrition program.

TEAM LEADER 

The lead for this application has worked with Indigenous communities in Australia for over 25 years and has extensive experience building relationships with New South Wales (NSW) communities around food and nutrition. The crises in food security for Indigenous Australians particularly in remote and outer regional areas is unacceptable in a country such as Australia, and Dr Gwynn is committed to advocating for change and to finding ways to address food security.

Describe the People and Place: Provide information that would be helpful for an outsider who has never been there and may have no context about this Place to better understand the area.

PLACE, POPULATION, FOOD and CLIMATE

The remote North West region of New South Wales (NSW) has a population of 186,812 of which 10.1% are Indigenous, more than 3 times the national proportion. The average maximum temperatures range between 28 to 40 degrees and over. This Place is currently experiencing earlier onset and severe drought. The local rivers are dry or degraded and unsafe for the traditional community activities of swimming and fishing. The topography of this sparsely populated region is dominated by a plateau of hills and plains with scattered rocky ridges. Farming activities now include beef cattle production, wheat and broadacre crops. Irrigated cotton (introduced) production in this area contributes to 64% of the states total production. Seasonally available root vegetables, grains, meat and fish traditionally served as important food sources. However removal from traditional land and forced resettlement (weblink attached) of Indigenous communities resulted in dependence on food supply and a poor diet which typically largely included white flour, and sugar. Maintaining a traditional diet has not been possible for most. Current diet is characterised by reliance on foods from fast food outlets.

HISTORY OF RACISM and VIOLENCE
The population have faced a history of violent colonisation (weblink attached) and removal from traditional lands. This brought lasting consequences including marginalisation, financial dependence, and overall poorer life-long health and wellbeing outcomes. Speaking a traditional Indigenous language was banned by colonial governments, and many languages were lost.

IMPACT OF OPPRESSION

The impact of these actions endure today with many social challenges existing for communities exacerbated by suspicion of government services, and experiences of racism from the broader Australian society. The impact is most keenly apparent in the disproportionately high suicide rates that occur in Indigenous communities, at over 3 times the rate of Non-Indigenous communities. In this Place there are low levels of unemployment with only around 23% of the community employed full-time, and low high school completion rates with only 24% completing the final grade of high school.  

Many Indigenous communities in this Place do not have food outlets,  and are reliant on larger nearby towns for access to foods. Indigenous communities in this Place have limited or no access to public transport. Reliance on private transport modes is problematic as not every family has a vehicle nor funds to afford the cost of petrol on a regular basis.

Indigenous communities’ traditional view of food is holistic and people share a unique connection to country. Indigenous people in Australia hold over 60,000 years of knowledge and experience in caring for country.

RESPECT

 To respect Indigenous communities’ cultural beliefs, the inclusion of visual material of Indigenous people and reference to names and places will not be used in this initial application.

Challenges: Describe the current (2020) and the future (2050) challenges that your food system faces.

2020 CURRENT CHALLENGES

HIGHER RATES OF FOOD INSECURITY: Indigenous communities face higher rates of food insecurity than non-Indigenous counterparts (22% compared with 4%). There is no Indigenous Nutrition workforce in Australia.

Indigenous communities have little to no input into water policies and actions on their country. Water supply and safety is not trusted. There exists a long history of compromised availability and quality, and historical instances of deliberate poisoning by the early colonisers. Large number of fish kills have occurred recently including over 1 million in one river at one location last summer. For children, the water supply (rivers and creeks) has become unfit (or unavailable) as a key site for play.

DIET-RELATED CHRONIC DISEASES are the major contributors to the substantial ‘gap’ in health.  Dietary factors alone contribute to overall disease burden at over 3 times the rate than for non-Indigenous Australians and at a much younger age. The difference in mortality rates between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples is among the highest worldwide, with life expectancy being 10 years younger for Indigenous people.

RACISM is a daily experience for Indigenous Australians and impacts significantly on mental health and physical wellbeing. One elder recently commented in a discussion on nutrition programs in her community ‘… we are usually told what to do….’.

CLIMATE CHANGE. This decade is predicted to be the driest and hottest on record.  In the near future the average temperature for this Place is projected to have a 2.2 degree Celsius increase, a significant warming trend. The impact of this will be compounded by a 10% reduction in average rainfall further risking environmental degradation across all agricultural processes.

ACCESS TO THE DIGITAL WORLD. This Place has unreliable internet and mobile (cell) phone access and infrastructure. 30.9% of the overall population in this Place report they have no internet connection. Indigenous communities share digital resources if available and often do not have access to computers or internet.


2050 ENVISIONED CHALLENGES

CLIMATE CHANGE: The consequences of an environment severely challenged by non-Indigenous land management practices are now magnified by climate change. Climate challenges will remain in 2050 unless there is a shift to stronger national leadership and support for local communities to act

WATER SUPPLY and FOOD ENVIRONMENT.  A degraded and insufficient water supply will make living on this land untenable. The food environment will be inhospitable and food availability entirely reliant on distant sources and costly transport systems.

HEALTH:  The impacts of the high burden of poor health in 2020 are intergenerational and will not have been mitigated by 2050.

RACISM: Addressing racism is a priority, requires intergenerational change and the remnants of its health impacts are likely to still exist in 2050.

Address the Challenges: Describe how your Vision will address the challenges described in the previous question.

A HEALTHY FOOD FUTURE GOVERNANCE STRUCTURE will be established, informed by a successful model implemented by the Team Leader in collaboration with Indigenous communities previously (see attachment). This will build from the relationships and collaborations which have existed between the Poche Centre and Land Councils since 2010. Co-creation will ensure Indigenous leadership, governance and management is actioned. This is critical to developing a culturally appropriate model.

The structure will include: a dedicated Local Indigenous Food Vision advisory group reporting to the Council; the employment of local ‘influencers’ (likely to be community elders) to work with the community in support of the vision; and external experts as required.


CAPACITY BUILDING through established TAFE, schools and Poche partnerships with Land Councils and guided by community elders is central to the success of this VISION and builds on the work of all stakeholders to date including for: oral health therapists; traditional agricultural skills; and Indigenous Allied Health Assistants (nutrition). Skills in growing and harvesting of native grain /foods, management and business, advocacy, infrastructure support and nutrition will be further consolidated. Building local Indigenous capacity to manage the food system in the right cultural way using traditional knowledges is a key strategy to respond to climate and other changes, and to enable sustainable land management.

 

WATER SUPPLY and FOOD ENVIRONMENT challenges will be addressed by building whole of community Nutrition knowledge (Poche and schools stake holders) and harnessing traditional food knowledge (all stake holders). Key strategies identified through community ‘yarn-ups’ (discussions) include: use of local facilities to build self-efficacy in food preparation skills and in providing healthy food options once a week; Revegetation and growing grain on Land Council land; and revival and Implementation of local land management knowledge (TAFE and Land council stakeholders).  


ACCESS TO THE DIGITAL WORLD and RELIABLE POWER SUPPLY: Through the actions of the governance structure described above, the community will source experts to guide the implementation of innovations in support of improved digital access for example inDigiMob, an Indigenous led organisation focusing on improving digital inclusion who are partnering with the largest Australian provider (see weblink attachment). Solar power initiatives are supported by Federal and State governments, and local capacity to install and maintain the infrastructure will be built through local TAFE collaborations (stakeholder) using existing training modules, and leveraging the services of local Indigenous employment organisations.  

High Level Vision: With these challenges addressed, now provide a high level description of how the Place and the lives of its People will be different than they are now.

ACCESS TO A RELIABLE CULTURALLY RESONANT HEALTHY FOOD SUPPLY:  In 2050 the children and grandchildren of 2020 community members will have access to a reliable culturally resonant healthy food supply that is sufficient for people to be leading healthy and happy lives with optimism for the future. The creation of the food supply will also provide workforce solutions and community revenue through entrepreneurial opportunities.  

Indigenous communities from this place will develop and lead the strategies required to achieve this Vision.


LIFE EXPECTANCY ON PAR WITH OTHER AUSTRALIANS:  Children and grandchildren of current community members will have a life expectancy on par with other Australians, will not be surrounded by the grief of early deaths of family and friends, will live healthy lives with the same potential for an optimistic future as other Australians, and will live in an inclusive society which values and honours Indigenous culture. Children and grandchildren will enthusiastically embrace the future as strong proud people confident in their capacity to lead Australia forward.

The Place will have sustainable and local food supply, built upon a skilled workforce fully employed. The supply will utilise traditional knowledge to provide revenue, therefore drawing on the past to inform a healthier future for community.


INFRASTRUCTURE: This Place will have reliable sources of: SOLAR POWER to support all the needs of the community; FAST POWERFUL INTERNET SERVICE to support new technologies and locally based innovations around food; and WATER for leisure, consumption, personal care and food harvest (including fish).


TRADITIONAL FOOD PRODUCTION AND LAND AND FIRE MANAGEMENT WILL HAVE BEEN REINSTATED: Government policy will have prioritised the availability of a healthy food supply for this Place, the workforce to sustain it, innovation to maintain it, a cost effective sustainable power supply and a water system which nourishes the community and the food supply.

Full Vision: How do you describe your Vision for a regenerative and nourishing food future for your Place and People for 2050?

Achieving the VISION for this Place requires that a complex interwoven system be in place. Indigenous traditions, leadership and authority will exist across the food system and be central to local food provision strategies.

This VISION is that of a transitional step between full dependency on largely unhealthy food options and food insecurity, and a community-led food system with a strong focus on production of traditional foods which flourish in the arid environment and provide employment and income to the local community. This VISION is a transformative MODEL for other Australian Indigenous communities to adapt locally and will support communities to reach food security.  Working up this model will have positive national remote area food systems reverberations.

A RELIABLE CULTURALLY RESONANT HEALTHY FOOD and WATER SUPPLY: 

The local Food Vision Advisory group will be established and have the authority and capacity to drive local action. This group is at the core of local success, and builds on established collaborations between the Poche Centre, schools, TAFE and the Indigenous community. The Advisory group will have access to and will manage experts online and in Place to advise and support technical innovations around power, internet capacity, food production, and a sustainable water supply.

Building Indigenous workforce capacity at each stage of the food production and supply is fundamental to the sustainability of this VISION and will build on the work of established community partners in this VISION such as the Poche Centre, Schools and TAFE education providers.

Schools, the Poche centre and the communities will continue their partnership and build sustainable food and nutrition programs for children and families which respond to changing local needs. This partnership will guide local provision of healthier food options by harnessing the skills of dedicated nutrition workers who respond to and understand community needs.

A quality water supply will exist which tastes and smells good, be available, sustainable and generate health and wellbeing for the communities. Sustaining this supply may inspire a local search for innovative approaches to replicate a healthy river in which children will be able to play in the hot summer months and aquaculture could be re-established as a component of land management and traditional food production. Water will be the drink of choice and build on initiatives by the Poche Centre in partnership with Aboriginal Land Councils, schools and Local Government to install water fountains providing cool, palatable and filtered water in accessible community locations.

This VISION will enable entrepreneurial opportunities to emerge for communities. Indigenous traditional foods and medicine are starting to emerge as desirable to the broader diverse Australian population. The establishment of community led Native seed production will enable the communities to sell an increasingly prized commodity (currently at $90/kilo), providing a robust income source to the communities. An opportunity to develop innovative harvesting methods appropriate for traditional grain may emerge to meet the need. Currently seeds have evolved over 10’s of 1000’s of years and require an intensive process of hand milling. Whilst this process may employ people, there may be an opportunity to develop an innovative mechanical method of harvesting / milling native grains to ensure sufficient quantities are produced for consumption and sale at sufficiently profitable scale.

National and multinational companies which drive the food supply system will see viable business opportunities in establishing local consumer partnerships for market elsewhere as well as locally. This approach will enable consumers to choose healthy foods that resonate culturally, are affordable and are appealing.

A national Tourist market with an increasing interest in Indigenous culture and food, and its connection to and management of the country may thrive.  TAFE and University (stakeholders) pilot work currently underway in partnership with some communities to develop native vegetation and agriculture is also conceiving a plan to develop adjacent regional and remote tourism opportunities such as cultural walks for tourists who  stay in a larger nearby town. We envision that Traditional teas and other products based on native foods production will be marketable in this Place as they are starting to be in a few other communities elsewhere in Australia.

INFRASTRUCTURE

Communities will have access to reliable, low cost, reliable and sustainable solar power to support the food production and supply system, and to improve the quality of day to day life. They will also have reliable and affordable access to the Digital World. The stakeholder partnership with the Land Councils will lead the sourcing of people and infrastructure support to compliment the TAFE trained skilled local workforce as required.

 

TRADITIONAL FOOD PRODUCTION AND LAND MANAGEMENT

Elders in Indigenous communities associate the poor health of their people with the loss of traditional land and food. Local traditional foods will be cultivated initially on Indigenous Land Council owned land, their production driven by a growth in community skill base (capacity building) in traditional Indigenous agricultural and land management practices. This will build from current collaborations between the Land Councils and TAFE and the University sector. Traditional skills in land management and food production were eroded in most communities as a result of the processes of colonisation. Reviving these (building on work currently underway in partnership with TAFE and the University of Sydney) to support the production and availability of local traditional food is a key component of a healthy secure food future and will recognise the significance of traditional land management and agricultural practices to the health and wellbeing of the community.

Key organisations have shown an interest in commercialising the cultivation of native agriculture such as kangaroo grass and murrnong (a native tubor), with the Aboriginal Land and Sea Council looking to upscale infrastructure in this area. Native grains and plants are far better suited for the Australian climate, having the capacity to withstand droughts and high temperatures. Indigenous-led agricultural initiatives have the capacity to transform food systems into sustainable structures that sufficiently meet the needs of whole communities. Traditional knowledge will be valued and integrated with the local food system.

Traditional fire management skills will be harnessed to support sustainable land management and food production. This approach is already demonstrating success in one of the communities in this Place (weblink attached). Knowing and reading the country is a core cultural value and skill which will be harnessed to support this Indigenous community led Food Vision.

THIS VISION will focus on building sustainable local supply of traditional foods,  capacity to provide healthier food options in communities, provision of a safe sustainable water supply, and a local food, nutrition, agricultural and infrastructure support workforce. It will also enable a revenue stream to contribute to financial independence for the community.  At this VISION’s core is Indigenous community governance and leadership, with actions based on long term established and productive stakeholder partnerships. These proud communities will experience reduced food insecurity and increased capacity to deliver a culturally resonant and healthful food future.

How did you hear about the Food System Vision Prize?

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Attachments (9)

Webistes attachment.docx

Lists websites / links referred to in application

Colonialism Racism and Indigenous Health.pdf

Article: Colonialism Racism and Indigenous Health

Community Governance.pdf

Article: Describes Indigenous community governance structures implemented previously in health research and promotion

Nutrition interventions review.pdf

Article by team lead: Systematic review of Dietary Interventions in Indigenous communities in Australia

Food and Nutrient Intake of Aboriginal children Paper.pdf

Article by Team Lead: Food and Nutrient Intake of Indigenous Australian Children

DIetary intake Review.pdf

Article: Systematic review Food and Nutrient Intake of Indigenous Communities in Australia

Closing the Gap - the need to consider water.pdf

Article: water and its place in Indigenous Health in Australia

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Thank you so much for the Food Extension Initiative.

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