The basic need for indigenous people to access fresh food has recently been thrust into the national spotlight. In August, Kimberley MLA Carol Martin rightly questioned why the Mulan community store was charging $14 for half a pumpkin. Then, last month, emergency food aid had to be flown in to the Burringurrah Aboriginal community, east of Carnarvon in Western Australia, when the community store was forced to close.
In a prosperous nation such as Australia, this is surely unacceptable.
Now the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs has announced an inquiry into the operation of community stores in remote indigenous communities.
Indigenous Affairs Minister Jenny Macklin is to be applauded for asking the committee to look at a range of issues, but most importantly the critical issues of food supply, quality and cost and their impact on the health and economic circumstances of indigenous communities.
I support such an inquiry. I hope it takes the widest view possible regarding food supply and nutrition in indigenous communities, and steps outside the door of community stores to see what is and isn't happening on the ground.
I am sure the committee will look at the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Nutrition Strategy and Action Plan 2000 to 2010, which states "any approaches to improving nutrition must be based on community development strategies that facilitate community ownership and participation".
Growing fruit and vegetables in remote indigenous communities would be an obvious community development strategy to combat this problem, yet depressingly little is happening. The federal Government is restructuring the Community Development Employment Projects scheme to focus on work readiness and community development, and I welcome those changes.
However, there are compelling reasons to require each CDEP to implement community-based horticultural projects to grow fruit and vegetables.
I have written to Macklin suggesting this reform, as it would build skills in sustainable horticulture, ameliorate the prohibitive costs of fresh produce in remote locations and contribute to self-sufficiency.
The concept would provide much-needed fresh produce in remote areas where indigenous people, particularly children and expectant mothers, suffer from a range of health issues caused or exacerbated by poor diet.
Increasing fruit and vegetable intake helps prevent coronary heart disease, various forms of cancer, obesity, high blood pressure and blood cholesterol levels, and improves the control of diabetes, which is prevalent in indigenous communities.
Assisting CDEPs to undertake horticultural production will close the gap in indigenous life expectancy and infant and child mortality.
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