Around 150,000 people in more than 1,200 remote and very remote communities in Australia live with tenuous food security.
Due to increasing transport costs and lack of bulk purchasing power, the National Indigenous Australians Agency (NIAA) estimates residents in these communities pay 39 per cent more for supermarket supplies than consumers in capital cities - and the gap could be widening.
A lack of affordable, healthy food directly contributes to disproportionately high rates of preventable disease, including kidney and heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, cancer and mental health issues.
The supply chain, which covers the end-to-end supply from paddock to plate, is a key challenge in meeting the four pillars of food security in remote communities:
Resilience and stability
Working closely with Health and Wellbeing Queensland and Torres Cape Indigenous Council Alliance (TCICA), we produced a Remote Community Supply Chain Report. The report provides additional information – to an existing body of knowledge - upon which policymakers and industry participants can make informed decisions on measures to:
improve the performance of supply chains
achieve positive outcomes for remote communities.
Findings from the report could help other remote communities facing similar challenges.
4pillars of food security
Building a picture of food-based supply chains to remote communities
Australia’s food supply chains from producers to distribution centres are long, particularly for seasonal produce. We have a diverse range of growing regions for specific produce which are connected to distribution centres that serve the whole country.
Health and Wellbeing Queensland’s Gather + Grow framework identifies key priorities to deliver food security to remote Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities in Queensland. These priorities are aligned to the four pillars of food security and will require a whole of government response to support communities to achieve resilient and stable food sources.
The key objective of this study was to build a picture of food-based supply chains to remote communities, including the stakeholders, infrastructure, facilities, transportation modes, distances and transport routes involved.
With multiple handoffs along a supply chain, often no single entity has a clear and complete picture of the journey of produce from paddock to plate. A supply chain map provides a basis for further analysis and data-based decision making to address the issue of food security in remote communities.
Our study aimed to answer fundamental questions about supply chains to remote communities, including:
Where does produce originate?
How does it get to consumers?
How far does it travel and how resilient is the route to major climatic events?
How long does it take?
Who is involved?
Escalating fuel prices increase transport costs, which directly impacts food prices. And, in far-north Queensland, we also needed to consider the impact of the region’s weather patterns. The wet season (December to May) impacts road networks with flooding and road closures; cyclones further impact already vulnerable areas; and climate change may exacerbate existing conditions.
During the wet and cyclone season, remote stores look to hold larger inventories to prepare for the possibility of missed shipments. However, this must be balanced against the shelf life, particularly of perishable goods.
And, while not the focus of our study, the issues caused by long supply chains associated with food delivery also apply to other critical provisions, including health supplies and pharmaceuticals, which has an additional impact on the general health and wellbeing of the community.
Adverse weather conditions, access via transport routes that are vulnerable and the distances travelled, can impact critical supply chains in remote regions. This Report will help policymakers achieve a more resilient supply chain, improving food quality and security for remote communities. ” Peter Scuderi Associate Director
Building resilience: Food production hubs can help reduce reliance on imported fresh food
We are also working with Health and Wellbeing Queensland and Mornington Shire Council to investigate the feasibility of a market garden on Mornington Island as a means of addressing food security.
Addressing food security and associated diet inequity in remote communities contributes to closing the health gap for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
A market garden is one strategy of a multi-faceted approach needed to support food security, targeting the dimensions of availability of and access to healthy food at the community, family and individual levels.
We are working with stakeholders to develop a vision, identify appropriate market garden options and assess the feasibility of each option.
The only way to ensure the next generation of Queenslanders can live a long and healthy life is by good prevention and public health. Food security is top priority for Health and Wellbeing Queensland, our State’s dedicated public health agency. With 1 in 3 homes in some parts of far North Queensland being food insecure, this agenda remains critical. ” Dr Robyn Littlewood CEO, Health and Wellbeing Queensland
Our approach involves workshops with Council and other stakeholders to explore desired benefits, visioning and investment logic mapping. We are consulting with stakeholders through workshops, group conversations and yarns to identify challenges and opportunities for the market garden – including lessons learnt from the previous operation of a market garden on the island.
We are conducting a community-wide survey to understand what the community would like to see grown at the garden and gathering data from the local store to understand existing demand and market size.
Thorough site analysis is being conducted and five potential sites on the island have been identified and are being evaluated against a set of criteria. We’re exploring a range of indoor and outdoor growing methods, including soil-based farming in garden beds or orchards as well as hydroponics and aquaculture for their suitability for Mornington Island and the produce sought by the community.
Five suitable food production typologies and crop types have been identified, and all can be implemented at small, medium or large scales.
We have found that initially implementing food production at a small scale is preferable to generate first-hand practical experience that will provide local insights and lessons to enable larger scale food production to prosper in the future. As experience and production grows further, high value products may be produced in quantities that can be exported from the region to Australian and international markets.