Meet the Kakadu plum: an international superfood thousands of years in the making


Greg Leach, Charles Darwin University

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The Kakadu Plum fruiting season in the Top End is just finishing. Over one weekend, I was able to find a few fruits on the ground beneath some trees in the Eucalypt woodland near Darwin.

This is the best way to eat Kakadu plums – fresh, fully ripe, and fallen from the tree. The fruit is smooth, fleshy and ovoid in shape with a short beak, and yellow–green or slightly reddish when ripe.

Initially, the taste seems somewhat bland, but with a definite sour and astringent finish. While that’s probably not a very inspiring description to encourage a tasting, a professional flavour profile describes the taste as “a stewed apple and pear aroma with cooked citrus and a floral-musk note” – so it’s perfect for jam, sauces and relishes.




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With small, creamy white flowers in long spikes clustered towards the tips of the branches, the Kakadu plum, Terminalia ferdiandiana, is just one of about 29 species of Terminalia found in Australia.

But the extraordinary properties of the Kakadu plum makes it attractive for a diversity of food, beverage and even cosmetic products. And this demand is creating supply problems as competition to cash in on the fruit increases.



The Conversation

A plum by any other name

Kakadu plums are abundant in the Eucalypt woodlands of the northern savannas. There are a plethora of Aboriginal names that reflect the distribution of the species and the broadly held knowledge across numerous language groups, such as “Gubinge”, a name from the Bardi people north of Broome.

Common names such as “billygoat plum” or “green plum” are also sometimes used. But thanks to marketing success, the common name “Kakadu plum” is the most well known, although it’s misleading.

While the species is found in Kakadu National Park, its distribution extends to the savanna vegetation, from the Kimberley to Cape York.

Getting ‘superfood’ status

The rise of the Kakadu plum to international fame as a “superfood” may appear to have come about almost overnight. But this story has been a long time in the making.

Aboriginal people have valued this plant for thousands of years for its food and medicinal properties. The health benefits of the fruit were certainly recognised, but more specifically, the red inner bark was used to treat skin conditions and sores.




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The findings of western scientists also go back a little way. Pioneering analysis of the composition of bush foods in the early 1980s found phenomenally high vitamin C content in Kakadu plums.

Citrus fruits are known for being good natural sources of vitamin C, which makes up around 0.5% of their weight.

But the Kakadu plum tops the scale, with vitamin C levels of 3.5-5.9% of its weight. This is about 50 times more vitamin C than in oranges.

Chemicals in the plum also have antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties, and recent research has shown extracts have excellent preservative qualities. This means the plum is now used in the seafood industry to extend the shelf life of, for instance, cooked prawns.

Opportunities for Indigenous-owned business

Now, increased demand for the fruit has produced opportunities for Indigenous communities to create enterprise on country.

Many communities in the Top End and the Kimberley are now engaged in fruit harvesting, which, for the most part, takes place from the wild on Indigenous-owned land.

A successful example is in Wadeye, about 250km southwest of Darwin.

I spoke to the Community Development Officer at Thamarrurr Development Corporation there, Melissa Bentivoglio, who said:

Thamarrurr Plums [Kakadu plums], based at Wadeye, has been evolving over the past 10 years as a locally owned and operated Indigenous enterprise. This year’s plum season saw over 250 local women harvest over 10 tonnes of plums from their clan estates in the Thamarrurr Region.

The community continue to carefully discern their way forward in this local enterprise to ensure community ownership and long-term sustainability.

But Indigenous representation over the entire supply chain and processing is poor. The participation rate in the bush food industry is reported to be less than 1%.

Indigenous groups are actively seeking mechanisms to see greater recognition and returns from their traditional knowledge.

In 2007, for instance, the American-based cosmetic company Mary Kay Inc. was granted a patent for Kakadu plum extracts in a skin cosmetic product.




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These patents were opposed following concerns around the recognition of the Indigenous knowledge and the lack of any benefit-sharing arrangements with relevant Indigenous communities. They were rejected by IP Australia on the grounds of lack of novelty – there were serious claims of biopiracy – commericially exploiting natural material – a cloud of uncertainty around the legal acquisition of the plant material.

Competing interests: food, cosmetics, bandicoots

The increasing demand for the fruit and sustainability concerns of the harvest has led the Northern Territory government to draft a management plan for Kakadu plum. It was released for public comment last year.

Ecologists also know the fruits of Kakadu plum form an important part of the diet of a suite of small native mammals, such as possums, rock rats, tree rats, and bandicoots. The recently observed decline in these populations can, in part, be attributed to overly frequent fires which are detrimental to small trees in the wild like the Kakadu plum.

The NT government’s management plan will need to ensure commercial harvest doesn’t add to the pressure on these native mammals.




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What’s more, the traditional medicinal uses are being tested in a current research project through a Cooperative Research Centre for Developing Northern Australia (CRCNA) funded collaboration to assess potential for establishing a medicinal plant agribusiness on Indigenous land.

It’s not easy being a super plant.


Sign up to Beating Around the Bush, a series that profiles native plants: part gardening column, part dispatches from country, entirely Australian.The Conversation

Greg Leach, Honorary Fellow at Menzies School of Health Research, Charles Darwin University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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Adani’s finch plan is approved, just weeks after being sent back to the drawing board


Stephen Garnett, Charles Darwin University; Brendan Wintle, University of Melbourne; David Lindenmayer, Australian National University; Don Franklin, Charles Darwin University, and John Woinarski, Charles Darwin University

The Queensland government has ticked off a crucial environmental approval for Adani’s Carmichael coalmine, bringing the contentious project a step closer to becoming reality.

It has approved Adani’s proposed management plan for the endangered black-throated finch, less than a month after the state’s environment department announced a delay in approval because the plan was judged to be inadequate.




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Four days after the May 18 federal election, in which the mine’s future was a prominent issue, Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk called for an end to the delays and uncertainty.

In a statement issued today, the government said it has now approved a “strengthened” version of the plan, submitted by Adani earlier this week.

Under the revised plan, Adani has now committed to:

  • “establish enhanced understanding” of the finch, with the help of “appropriate population studies”

  • implement “appropriate monitoring protocols” to track the finch’s population over time

  • restrict grazing in nearby areas.

The only remaining state environmental approval for the project now is Adani’s groundwater management plan, on which a decision is due by June 13.

Bad plan caused the delays

As members of the scientific panel that reviewed the finch management plan, we can understand the Premier’s frustration. There is no excuse for such a poor plan to have been put forward for approval when the company has been aware for almost a decade that the land it wants to mine is home to the largest known remaining population of the black-throated finch.

There has already been ample time to undertake the studies Adani has pledged to carry out in the future. Had it done so before now, it could have put its claims to be able to manage the finch’s extinction risk on a much more solid footing.

As it is, the plan we reviewed made biologically improbable assumptions about the finch, while ignoring what is known about the finch’s precipitous decline so far. Under the plan, people with the curious title of “fauna spotter-catchers” were to find finches and move them “to suitable habitat adjacent to the disturbance, if practical” before the habitat is destroyed.

It sounds impractical, and will in all likelihood prove to be so. If the adjacent habitat already has finches, it is likely to be “full” and so won’t be able to support mining refugees. If it lacks finches, there is probably a very good reason.

The finch has been observed only a handful of times in just a tiny proportion of the area purchased for conservation purposes near the mine site. The finch has had more than 10,000 years to occupy and breed in the proposed conservation area that is supposed to offset the impact of the mine. It hasn’t, and it probably won’t.

As far as can be determined by overlaying the available maps, the proposed conservation area has a different geology and soil type. Adani has categorically failed to provide robust scientific evidence to demonstrate that the conservation reserve will adequately offset the loss of the finches and the habitat in the mined area. It has had more than 10 years to conduct the science to provide the evidence.



Meanwhile, before the existing habitat is mined, the plan had talked about grazing being used to control bushfire fuel loads and reduce the abundance of a weed called buffel grass. Yet grazing is thought to be the main reason the finches have disappeared from most of their once vast range – they once occurred from the Atherton tablelands to northern New South Wales.

The new plan is said to “restrict grazing” but no details are yet available. Under the original plan, the cattle would have got fat on the buffel grass pastures just as they did in all the places where the finch once lived.

Rigorous research

What must really frustrate the Queensland Premier is the contrast between Adani’s efforts with the black-throated finch and the much more rigorous work done by mining companies who find themselves in similar situations. Rio Tinto, for example, is currently funding high-quality research on two other birds, the palm cockatoo and red goshawk, ahead of its planned expansion of bauxite operations on Cape York Peninsula.

Vista Gold, meanwhile, funded research on stress levels in Gouldian finches long before mining was planned to begin at its Mt Todd goldmine in the Northern Territory.

In criticising Adani’s plan, we are not criticising mining. Like all Australians, we use the products of mining every day. We enjoy a high standard of living that is delivered partly by royalties from mining. We also understand that miners (and politicians) in Queensland want to see jobs created.

Most mining companies, however, provide jobs while willingly abiding by national and state legislation. They compromise where necessary to minimise environmental harm. And crucially, they commission research to demonstrate how they can mitigate damage well before that damage occurs, rather than when their operations are already underway.




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In contrast, the so-called research and monitoring that went into Adani’s finch plan seems only to conclude that more research is needed. After nine years, Adani did not even know the population size of the finch, how it moves around the landscape, or even what it eats.

Given the time available, this bird could (and should) have been among the best-studied in Australia. The management plan could then have been based on robust evidence that would show how best to safeguard the finch population.

Now the research and monitoring is a hurried add-on with no proof that the threat posed to the finch can actually be solved and an extinction averted. Given the high stakes involved, Australians might reasonably have expected something altogether more rigorous.The Conversation

Stephen Garnett, Professor of Conservation and Sustainable Livelihoods, Charles Darwin University; Brendan Wintle, Professor Conservation Ecology, University of Melbourne; David Lindenmayer, Professor, The Fenner School of Environment and Society, Australian National University; Don Franklin, Adjunct Research Fellow, Research Institute for Environment and Livelihoods, Charles Darwin University, and John Woinarski, Professor (conservation biology), Charles Darwin University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.