Written by Energy Extension Officer John Hay
Indigenous Australians are our original farmers, caring for country and using land management that worked with the environment including traditional burning, fishing traps, and sowing and storing plants. While European farming practises suited to a very different environment have had major implications for the land, there is growing recognition of the sophisticated sustainable agricultural systems Indigenous people cultivated and adoption of their practises. This year’s NAIDOC Week theme ‘Healing Country’ reminds the agriculture sector that we still have a lot to learn.
Today, much is being done to heal country utilising the unique flora and knowledge from a culture that has survived for 60,000 years on the second driest continent on earth. ‘Firestick farming’, or cool burning, has been introduced to reduce Carbon and Nitric Oxide emissions and control invasive weeds. Interestingly, the by-product of fire, the chemical group Karrikins, from the Noongar word Karrik for smoke, was recently discovered to help promote the germination of native species.
In conjunction with the use of planted native species, revegetation can take place to sequester Carbon and mitigate against climate change. While limited in some farming applications, these techniques in conjunction with modern science has accelerated interest in regenerative and sustainable practices. As a result, a host of projects have received funding including the Indigenous Savanna Burning Project in Cape York which carries out strategic burning of savanna areas during the early dry season to reduce the risk of late dry season wildfires. This strategy reduces the emission of greenhouse gases and increases the carbon stored in dead organic matter. While further grant funding was announced this week for projects to conserve and restore land and sea.
Opportunities for Reconciliation are not limited to caring for land. Around 6,000 recorded types of native foods exist in Australia, but only 13 are currently certified by Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ). The largest commercialised crop, Macadamias are rapidly expanding, along with finger limes as they gain traction with export markets now available. However, there remain opportunities to involve Indigenous communities in these projects to greater benefit. While Australia is in a unique position to commercialise more drought tolerant and highly nutritious native foods such as wild rice found in Northern Australia and working with community groups in conjunction with science like the University of Queensland’s Breeding Program.
The agriculture sector has an opportunity to think outside of the box by through cultural diversity to achieve new income streams by getting involved with programs such as the Indigenous Native food Program and producing uniquely Australian foods. By working together, we can make change, increase resilience in times of drought and further improve efficiency, all while caring for country. Although, care is needed to not make the same mistakes of the past and always involve first nations people.