Challenges to food production, including land and water degradation, shortage of fresh water, competing land uses, and climate change, for Australia and other areas of the world
Investigating the impacts of alterations of biomes on the productivity and availability of staple resources for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples (for example, murnong or yam daisy in Victoria)
In what ways does food production affect communities and wider populations?
Food production causes many environmental challenges and threats to sustainability
There are currently higher rates of illness and disease among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people compared to other Australians.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities in remote, regional and some urban parts of Australia have limited access to, and awareness of, high-quality, nutritious food and clean water. This is reflected in statistics around poverty, low income, disadvantage and welfare-dependence.
The introduction of non-traditional foods into the diet of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples has led to an increase in chronic disease and other health-related issues.
European colonisation and development over the last two centuries restricted traditional hunting and gathering practices, reducing access to local natural food resources for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Causes of these restrictions include:
- loss of access to traditional country due to European land 'ownership'
- Western development of Aboriginal lands
- water pollution
- native fauna killed or moved elsewhere as their habitat was destroyed
- clearing of land and removal of edible and nutritious native flora
The yam daisy, or murnong (Microseris scapigera), is an example of a staple dietary plant almost eradicated due to mainstream farming on the plains of south-eastern Australia.
Prior to colonisation, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people were lean and healthy, with a nutrient-dense diet characterised by high protein, polyunsaturated fat, fibre and slowly digested carbohydrates. This nutritious diet has been replaced by high intakes of refined cereals, added sugars, fatty meats, salt and low intakes of fibre.
The process of food collection has also altered drastically; the hunter/gatherer active lifestyle is being replaced by a sedentary, less active lifestyle. This has contributed to the overall change in the collective health of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
There were many Aboriginal people killed and/or dispossessed by colonisers and occupiers. Because of this, the knowledge of traditional hunting and gathering, and the preparation of traditional foods, has been lost in many parts of the country.
Dark Emu, Pascoe, B, Magabala Books, 2014
All people should have access to resources required for a good standard of health and well-being.
As some Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people don’t have access to safe drinking water, healthy food supplies, culturally appropriate healthcare and effective sewerage systems, there needs to be a shared responsibility as a country to address and rectify this inequality.
The traditional Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander diet was, and in some instances still is, sourced from a wide range of uncultivated plant foods and native animals.
There are strong links between traditional food sources and the health and wellbeing of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and communities. Many plants have both nutritional and medicinal uses. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’ health and wellbeing are enhanced by access to traditional medicinal treatments derived from native plants. Although the food sources vary according to location and season, there are similarities in the overall nutrient profiles.
In less urbanised locations, traditional foods remain a large part of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander diets; many communities still go hunting and fishing using comprehensive knowledge of local country. Sadly, this has been diminished in urbanised locations as urban sprawl has made it difficult to continue traditional practices. The ease of modern shopping has also influenced this demise.
Examples of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people reverting to a more traditional diet has resulted in weight loss and lessening of risk factors for diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Emerging research identifies that living on traditional lands and engaging in traditional and cultural practices positively contributes to the overall health of the individual.
There are many ways to respond, including:
Learn about food sources in Australia and the factors that affect access to different types of food.
Investigate more about how Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples maintained, and in some parts of Australia continue to maintain, health with a traditional diet and lifestyle.
Learn about and promote healthy eating for all people.