Plants for People: A New Project Is Helping Aboriginal People Develop Innovative Small Businesses around Traditional Knowledge of Native Plants and Their Uses. by Helping to Build Self-Esteem and Self-Sufficiency within Remote Communities, the Initiative Is Also Opening Up Avenues for Better Communication, and Improving Appreciation of the Value of Aboriginal Culture

By Pyper, Wendy | Ecos, January-March 2005 | Go to article overview

Plants for People: A New Project Is Helping Aboriginal People Develop Innovative Small Businesses around Traditional Knowledge of Native Plants and Their Uses. by Helping to Build Self-Esteem and Self-Sufficiency within Remote Communities, the Initiative Is Also Opening Up Avenues for Better Communication, and Improving Appreciation of the Value of Aboriginal Culture


Pyper, Wendy, Ecos


The Plants for People program is breaking new ground. Co-ordinated by the Desert Knowledge Co-operative Research Centre (DK-CRC) and the Western Australian Centre of Excellence for Sustainable Mine Lakes (CSML) at Curtin University, researchers are working with Aboriginal communities in South Australia, Western Australia and the Northern Territory, to help them document, evaluate and apply their indigenous knowledge through 'action research' projects. Approved and driven by the communities involved, these projects will directly benefit their people and outlook.

'We're helping the Aboriginal people use their traditional knowledge as a capital asset, to increase the wealth of their communities through self-sufficiency rather than government aid,' says program co-leader Professor Louis Evans, of CSML.

'The work is primarily focused on native plants and developing the capacity of communities to build successful business enterprises around them.'

Such enterprises could include producing and marketing native food products and condiments; developing medicinal compounds and tonics (such as antiviral, antibacterial and antifungal agents), nutrition products and personal care products (cosmetics, hair care, skin care and aromatherapy products); producing educational books, posters, photographs and CDs; and building horticulture, farm-forestry, integrated aquaculture (plants and fish) and tourism ventures.

Importantly, protocols have been developed to ensure that the intellectual property rights over traditional knowledge used in these ventures actually belong to the Indigenous people and communities. Similarly, the research teams are ensuring that enterprises developed through Plants for People are owned and controlled by the Indigenous communities.

Through these projects, Evans says younger generations of Aboriginal people are learning more about their own culture and developing a respect for it, while older people have developed skills, confidence and self-esteem, through various training programs and the realisation that non-Indigenous people are interested in their knowledge and culture.

'These projects also more broadly inform the general Australian population about the wealth of knowledge and cultural integrity that is still present in Aboriginal communities,' Evans says.

Social enterprise

Before sustainable business enterprises can be developed, strong social foundations and community 'capacity' are essential.

At Titjikala in the Northern Territory, Evans's team has put in some three years of groundwork, establishing trust, learning about native plants from the community, and getting the right 'engagement process' happening.

To build the capacity of communities to undertake projects, Western and Indigenous experts conduct education and training activities in, for example, horticulture, native seed collection and propagation, photography, and business. Social enterprise activities also feature. At Leonora in Western Australia, for example, a young Aboriginal woman employed at the local school wanted to showcase successful Aboriginal people in the community. Evans's team helped her produce a series of posters, which will be displayed at the school and at NAIDOC (National Aboriginal Islander Day Observance Committee) Week next year.

'This project was a social enterprise to build the woman's self-confidence to participate in a Plants for People project,' Evans says.

'Her next project will be to produce a calendar, posters and brochures that outline the seasonal changes in food plants at Leonora, for sale in tourist shops.'

Associate Professor Brian Cheers, who co-leads Plants for People with Evans, and leads the South Australian component of the program, says understanding the cultural mores of Aboriginal communities, and their own understanding of the concept of community, is essential to ensuring future business enterprises survive. …

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Plants for People: A New Project Is Helping Aboriginal People Develop Innovative Small Businesses around Traditional Knowledge of Native Plants and Their Uses. by Helping to Build Self-Esteem and Self-Sufficiency within Remote Communities, the Initiative Is Also Opening Up Avenues for Better Communication, and Improving Appreciation of the Value of Aboriginal Culture
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