Native ‘wonder’ fruit

 

 

TRIAL cultivation of an indigenous bush “wonder” fruit has started in the Kimberley.

With international pharmaceutical companies in hot pursuit.

 

Terminalia ferdinandiana, commonly known as gubinge or Kakadu plum, is a cherry-sized, pale green fruit found from the Kimberley through to Arnhem Land in the NT.

 

But initial environmental concerns of wild harvesting sensitive bush areas were heightened when it was revealed an international pharmaceutical company had exported tissue culture material of the fruit to Brazil with the aim of establishing commercial plantations there.  

These issues were raised at a forum organised by the WA Department of Agriculture and Food (DAFWA) and hosted by the Kimberley College TAFE Broome Campus late last year.

 

TAFE program coordinator and horticultural lecturer Kim Courtenay said the forum established conclusively the development of the industry and its security was at risk because of a lack of local supply.

He said cultivated plantations, based on organic principals that preserved natural bio diversity presented the way forward for the industry.

 

Kimberley TAFE is currently trialling a new concept known as enrichment planting – an environmentally sustainable approach to farming through a practical training program at its Broome Campus.

 

The trial is the first stage of an initiative in conjunction with the Department of Environment and Conservation (DEC) to establish a training and research facility in horticulture and land management on the outskirts of Broome.

The training programs have successfully established the first cultivated plantations of gubinge in the region.

 

Mr Courtenay said a critical element has been how the trees are watered.

 

“The young trees have been watered using the latest technology in drip-irrigation,” he said.

“Gubinge are deep rooted trees and adapted to the dry tropics. Drip-irrigation helps simulate the perfect wet season by giving them an early start.

“We plant the trees at the beginning of the build up and with drippers it tends to go well during the first wet season – ending up with well-established trees.”

 

Mr Courtenay, who has grown the plant for 25 years, said it was an exciting time for gubinge – which is currently fetching up to $20 a kilogram.

 

However TAFE itself has been trialling gubinge for 10 years on West Kimberley aboriginal communities – teaching and involving the residents.

Mr Courtenay said a lot of the work had involved special training for minimum security prisoners as part of a corrective services, training and rehabilitation initiative.

He hopes to venture further with the project as there are more than 200 communities in the Kimberley region who would benefit from horticulture programs.

 

Kimberley TAFE horticultural trainer Merridoo Walbidi is a traditional Elder of the Yulparija people from the Great Sandy Desert.

He has been involved in the gubinge project for several years and won the Aboriginal Student of the Year award in 2004.

 

Premier Alan Carpenter said Mr Walbidi had demonstrated traditional and modern culture could effectively work side by side.

 

“We must walk together to create opportunities for young people and a better world for everyone,” Mr Walbidi said.

He said growing plants and creating gardens on communities was a good thing for people and improves their health.

 

Nutritional studies carried out by the Australian Army accompanying the Bush Tuckerman television series in the 1980s found the fruit to have extraordinarily high levels of vitamin C.

Further studies revealed the fruit also contained high levels of antioxidants – mooted as having anti-aging, immune system boosting and even cancer fighting qualities.

 

Research by Charles Darwin University (CDU) in 2006 revealed there were 17 major health and cosmetic companies worldwide interested in trialling gubinge fruit for product development.

The emerging industry was largely instigated by Sydney based company Coradji, which has established international markets and patented a technique which turns the fruit into a powder while maintaining high levels of vitamin C.

 

Since 2003 Coradji has purchased wild harvested fruit from licensed pickers in the Broome region and top end of NT – but supply has consistently fallen short by 12 tonnes a year.

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