Food Sovereignty in Aboriginal Australia


‘Food sovereignty’ is a term that has become increasingly popular in the last decade. It has been used to replace ‘food security’ by preserving the meaning of sustainable access to food sources but expanding it to encompass control of the mechanisms and policies of food production. When applied to indigenous communities, the term has an even more loaded meaning, since colonialism and its associated dispossession and oppression have had devastating effects on indigenous access to land and its resources, and have left indigenous populations with little if any at all access to decision making and policy creation in regards not only to their political but also their cultural development.


Problem statement

A large number of Australian aboriginals live in remote communities with little to no access to healthy fresh foods, and whenever available, imported foods come at an inflated price. Combined with limited educational and employment opportunities in remote areas, and insecure rights over land, food scarcity and high cost add to the economic pressure many aboriginal communities are faced with. At the same time, traditional foods have been increasingly pushed aside as either not seen as ‘real’ or ‘proper’ food, or have been associated by cultural primitiveness or backwardness, thus creating a taboo around their collection and consumption. Therefore, the diet of modern remote aboriginal Australians predominantly consists of western-style cheap foods packed with sugar and fats. Which ultimately leads to decreased health and overall well-being of individuals and whole communities.

Traditional foods, on the other hand, are not only associated with sustenance but are integrated within all spheres of life within a vibrant and living community – knowledge systems, education, belonging, healing, cosmological beliefs, etc. The importance of traditional foods is also recognized in Article 10 of the UN Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (of which Australia is a signatory) as the rights to adequate and culturally appropriate food.

Food sovereignty should, therefore, be seen as an integral part of indigenous self-determination and as an inseparable part of holistic well-being of indigenous communities.


Research ideas

A research project can focus on the assessment of the subsistence realities of a remote aboriginal community with special attention to the nature, cost and availability of food resources. Mapping of traditional foods and their role in the diet and cultural system of the community can lead to an increased understanding of alternative and secure sources for subsistence. Policies and mainstream attitudes towards traditional food system can provide the framework for a better understanding of conflicting perceptions and attitudes towards indigenous community development and policy creation.