The Wadeye community in the Northern Territory of Australia, who are partly reliant on wild harvesting of the Kakadu plum for economic independence, undertook a food certification audit of Kakadu plums in Wadeye in May 2016 in partnership with SAI global.
The audit included a desktop review of the documented Food Safety Plan and observation of the picking, sorting, grading, freezing, packing and dispatch of Kakadu plums.
This initiative brought with it the first opportunity for Indigenous Australians living in this remote area of the country to experience and be part of a system that not only analysed and addressed the processes involved in what constitutes their livelihood, but more importantly provided the rare opportunity for recognition of the work being done on land, and pride in the community.
That said, there were many challenges with the audit. The availability of the fruit is seasonal so there is a short season in which the operations can be reviewed. Added to this is the remoteness of the community, situated at the end of a 300km stretch of corrugated gavel road that is only accessible by vehicle in the dry season and can be impassable for months. Driving involves an entire day’s travel from Darwin via 4WD vehicles so plane from Darwin is required Being Aboriginal land, permission is needed to enter the area. Remoteness is one of the key barriers to enterprise and development in this area and cost of getting materials in and out can be restrictive. The harvest and collection of fruits is voluntary, pickers are trained and registered and must seek permission of Traditional Owners to access land to pick fruit. It is up to the registered pickers to decide each day whether they go out “on country” to pick fruit. Vehicle accessibility is also another issue as vast distances may need to be covered to access each Clan’s country.
“Looking after country”a term that relates to the cultural obligations that Indigenous Traditional Owners have to maintain the health of their lands (Clan Estates), is about caring for both cultural and natural resources and maintaining important spiritual connections. Economic activity based on the use of resources on people’s country will assist people meet these obligations. This SAI Global audit is one of many first steps towards successfully linking traditional Aboriginal culture within vulnerable populations, with compliance and requirements for future economic stability.
The Wadeye community successfully achieved certification for food safety. This will allow them to continue with this much needed Kakuda plum harvesting as a business enterprise and share the knowledge and experiences gained through the certification process with similar regional communities across the monsoonal top of Australia. It is envisaged that SAI Global will continue their role as leaders and mentors in 2017 in the communities of Kimberly in Western Australia and Kakadu in the Northern Territory.