Plum potential: bush food boosts choccy, cosmetics and cereal

The Kakadu plum could be poised to become Australia’s first large scale Indigenous horticulture product.

The Cooperative Research Centre for Developing Northern Australia (CRCDNA) said Aboriginal corporations and communities will work with university researchers and other organisations in a $2.7 million three-year project to look at the Kakadu plum industry and its potential for the future.

About 15 tonnes of Kakadu plums are currently available within Australia each year from wild harvesting — picking the fruit of trees growing in traditional lands — and those involved say demand is increasing.

“What’s become apparent in recent years is potentially there is a much bigger market,” said Paul Lane of the Kimberley Institute, a not-for-profit organisation in Broome in Western Australia’s north.

The plums are harvested from northern Western Australia, through the Top End, to far north Queensland. They are currently only sold domestically and are not yet exported.

The Thamarrurr Development Corporation, owned by the Wangka, Lirrga and Tjanpa peoples and headquartered at Wadeye in the NT, is one of the main Kakadu plum suppliers and is involved in the new project along with the Bawinanga Aboriginal Corporation in West Arnhem land, Delye Outstation in the NT, and communities in northern WA, the CRCDNA said.

The project is being co-ordinated by the CRCDNA, which has invested $500,000 in the venture and says it hopes Australian Kakadu plums can secure a slice of a global functional foods market worth US$130 billion.

The CRCDNA would work with researchers from the University of Queensland’s Queensland Alliance for Agriculture and Food Innovation Institute, the Kimberley Institute, Charles Darwin University and humanitarian group, Kindred Spirits Enterprises.

One of the questions the industry faces is how will it meet a big jump in demand when the elusive Kakadu plum — a natural preservative and dubbed a superfood by some — defies attempts to grow it in an orchard and can only be found in its natural bush environment, Mr Lane said.

Traditionally, Kakadu plums have been used as a food source, medicine, ointment and preservative. They are being sold commercially in fruit, puree or powder form, for use in cosmetics and confectionary, such as chocolate.

University of Queensland professor Yasmina Sultanbawa said the Kakadu plum’s uses could be much broader. The project will look at the fruit’s potential use in breakfast cereals, energy and health bars, high fibre products, and as a natural preservative.

“Demand and growth for Kakadu plum products here and overseas is expected to be around 10 per cent annually, with significant opportunities emerging in the nutraceutical, supplement and pharmaceutical industries, so looking at how we can improve the value chain to better capture these new markets will be a key focus of this research,” she said.

The new plum project follows a Kindred Spirits Traditional Homeland Enterprises Kakadu plum project which began in 2013 at the request of the Women’s Centre and traditional owners in Wadeye.

Kindred Spirits Enterprises’ executive officer Ann Shanley said potential customers wanted more information about the plums.

“Our potential customers keep telling us they want to use Kakadu plum in food products, cosmetics and nutraceuticals – but they need information about how they can do so,” she said.

“Growing the market and increasing demand also creates opportunity for local Indigenous harvesting communities to grow their enterprises and their local economy.”

By Wendy Caccetta

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