Native Australian crops hold commercial potential for farmers

Grace Entry - Tuesday, January 10, 2017
Bruce Pascoe, an Aboriginal writer and historian has launched a project to harvest and mill kangaroo grass, a native Australian crop, to encourage modern Australian farmers to cultivate native plants.

Raising $17,000 from a crowdfunding campaign, Mr Pascoe will work with a group of volunteers from Victoria and the New South Wales south coast to show how the native grain can be milled into flour and used to make bread.

Mr Pascoe told ABC Rural that farmers should consider native crops such as kangaroo grass and yam daisy (an edible tuber also known as murnong) because they are naturally suited to the Australian climate.

“There are a lot of efficiencies to be gained – these plants only need the available moisture that Australia provides. They only need the available fertility and they’re adapted to Australian pests,” he said.

A member of the Wathaurong Aboriginal Cooperative of southern Victoria, Mr Pascoe grows a variety of native plants on his property and says that he was encouraged to grow them due to the numerous misconceptions regarding the ways Indigenous Australians grew and harvest food – Mr Pascoe has put forward the argument that Aboriginal people were distinguished farmers who cultivated native plants prior to settlement (and were not just hunter-gatherers). He cited that a grindstone discovered at an archaeological site at Cuddie Springs in New South Wales has shown that seeds were grounded into starch for cooking more that 30,00 years ago.

“We know that Aboriginal people were harvesting [kangaroo grass] grain and rendering it into flour using grindstones. That makes Australians the first people on Earth to bake bread,” says Mr Pascoe.

“When I first started getting interested in the native grasses, no one knew anything about it. People were growing kangaroo grass but no one had converted it into flour.”

“Non-Aboriginal and Aboriginal people have been incredibly supportive,” says Mr Pascoe. “This will be our first venture into the wide-acre harvest of these grains.”

Mr Pascoe believes that kangaroo grass could be used not only to produce flour, but also as feed for livestock. He hopes that the project will draw attention to the various advantages of native Australian plants.
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