A glimmer of hope – food security for remote indigenous communities

Across the world  it is common knowledge that people and cultures who eat and have access fresh foods such as fruits, vegetables and wholegrains, live healthier and longer lives.

However for Australia’s remote Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island communities, having affordable access to these foods is a constant struggle. This has direct negative effects on the health of Indigenous Australia’s living remotely.

Food shortages in remote communities

Since Covid-19 took hold, most of our local media attention was focused on middle class Australia’s fighting over toilet paper and hand sanitiser in capital cities. For remote communities however, these shortages and price wars were on basic food items and groceries essential to living. With disturbing reports of poor quality produce and extortionate prices emerging, and with fears of the compounding issue this would cause for these communities, action needed to be taken.

Food security and pricing during the pandemic

Earlier this month the Indigenous Affairs Committee published findings from its inquiry into food pricing and food security during the pandemic so far. The report has highlighted what many locals, health workers and policy makers already know – a distinct lack of nutritious, affordable and available foods in remote communities in Australia.

Although this report casts a negative lens of the barrage of challenges currently being faced by these communities, there simultaneously have been some positive outcomes also noted in the report in response to the COVID-19 crisis, highlighting some potential hope for the future.

With bio-security zones established early on in the pandemic to protect these vulnerable communities, it has driven more people to return to living remotely in these communities. This has been due to no options of travelling regionally and pick up supplies regularly. Interestingly, this has created the need for solution-focussed ways of breaking down the barriers to these food supply issues. It has resulted in greater collaboration between communities, governments, non-for-profit organisations and industry to band together and overcome these usual challenges.

The question is though, yes we have momentum, but where to from here?

Ensuring future food security

It is now more important than ever to better develop better governance of food security in these remote townships. In the past, despite other investigations taking place, little has been done to create permanent positive change.

The report published this month has made a number of clear recommendations including to have these matters investigated by the ACCC. An enhanced market study such as this, has yet to be undertaken in remote communities and appears to be the next logical step to create a much needed change.

Other measures recommended in the report were having real-time prices monitored through local stores point of sale systems, a national scheme for inspection and licencing of community stores and maintaining the Food Security Working Group that was created during this pandemic.

Although this remains an uphill battle, the positive experiences of community collaboration during this pandemic have reinvigorated the conversation and need for action.

Author:

Linda Uhr

Accredited Practising Dietitian and Diabetes Educator

References

Commonwealth of Australia. (2020). Report on food pricing and food security in remote Indigenous communities. Retrieved: https://www.aph.gov.au/Parliamentary_Business/Committees/House/Indigenous_Affairs/Foodpricing/Report

Parliament of Australia. (2020). Indigenous Affairs Committee tables its report on food pricing and food security in remote communities. Retrieved: https://www.aph.gov.au/About_Parliament/House_of_Representatives/About_the_House_News/Media_Releases/Indigenous_Affairs_Committee_tables_its_report_on_food_pricing

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