(Simeon Buckley is a master’s student from RMIT University (Melbourne, Australia) and is working as a research assistant to Anna Stammler-Gossmann on a research project – Coastal communities of the Barents region and marine resources use: Seascape and fishing rights.
I chose the topic of kangaroo harvesting as it is an interesting comparison to traditional fishing rights of coastal Sami people. I would like to write my masters thesis on the topic of indigenous involvement in kangaroo harvesting and developing fair trade kangaroo products.
I opened the presentation with a two quote that highlight the environmental difference of Australia compared with Europe.
“This land is cursed; the animals hop not run, birds run, not fly and the swans are black not white”. So wrote one of the first Europeans to set foot on Australia, Dirk Hartog, as he sailed away from the west coast in 1688. (Hartog in Kangaroo Industry Association of Australia 2013)
Unfortunately for our environment this attitude prevailed throughout our settlement – the land was wrong and had to be changed into how a good European farm should be, the animals should be removed and replaced with good European animals. Along the way we have caused huge damage to our fragile grazing lands. It’s only in recent times that the concept of utilizing this land with the animals that belong here has emerged. Doing so has the potential to deliver enormous environmental benefits. (Flannery in Kangaroo Industry Association of Australia 2013)
Kangaroos are one of the most numerous large wild animal species in the world. “The combined population size of the four species of kangaroo that are commercially harvested in Australia fluctuates between 15 and 50 million animals over the past 25 years in the harvested areas, depending on seasonal conditions such as drought.” (Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade 2013) The four species of kangaroo that are commercially harvested have very large populations. None of these species is threatened or endangered.
Kangaroo populations have increased dramatically since European settlement in these areas due to the introduction of European farming methods and, for this reason, carefully controlled culling or harvesting is required. Caughley et al 1987 says that:
Pastoral activities in much of the Australian arid rangelands are supporting a large population of kangaroos which, if uncontrolled, would seriously threaten the economic viability of the pastoral industry and the environmental sustainability of huge tracks of land (Caughley et al 1987 in Kelly 2008).
The harvesting of kangaroos is permitted on a quota basis that is reviewed annually and independent of market demand. Quotas are set on the basis of population size and trends, and long-term climate predictions. An average of 3 million kangaroos is harvested each year. The Conservation of the species remains the foremost consideration. This approach ensures that the harvesting of kangaroos is managed in an ecologically sustainable way. (Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade 2013).
Kangaroo population numbers have been extensively studied over a long period of time. Due to the ongoing nature of this research accurate and detailed methods of conducting kangaroo census have been developed. Data collected over a 22-year period by Environment Australia confirms that, even with a harvest in excess of 3 million animals per year, the kangaroo population has consistently increased. (J. Kelly 2008)
A detailed Royal Society for the Protection and Care Animals (RSPCA) examination of the animal welfare aspects of commercial kangaroo harvesting concludes
If conducted correctly, the harvest Kangaroos is of the most humane forms of animal slaughter possible. If achieved correctly, kangaroo culling is considered one of the most humane forms of animal slaughter. An animal killed instantly within its own environment is under less stress than domestic stock that have been herded, penned, transported etc. (RSPCA 1985 in Pople and Grig 1999)
The kangaroo industry currently generates in excess of $270 million per year in income and employs over 4,000 people. The vast bulk of these jobs are in remote rural communities, many of which would not exist without the industry. (Kangaroo Industries Association of Australia 2013)
The Australian kangaroo industry estimates that it exports kangaroo meat to more than 55 countries. The European Union and Russia are the most significant export markets. (Kangaroo Industries Association of Australia 2013) In 2009 Russia accounted for 70 % of export trade of kangaroo products before a ban that has now been lifted was put in place preventing the import of kangaroo meat due to potential hygiene issues with the meat.
There is a growing export trade in finished kangaroo leather. Kangaroo skin is renowned for being very strong, yet light in weight. It is ideal for use in the manufacture of high-quality leather goods, including footwear. (Kangaroo Industries Association of Australia 2013)
There are many environmental benefits from eating kangaroo meat compared to other eating other animals such as beef, lamb, pork or chicken. Cattle and sheep have hard hooves which course significant erosion and trampling damage to Australian range lands. Kangaroos are soft-footed animals so damage to the land is far less than that of sheep and cattle. Kangaroos also need less food than sheep and cattle, and can better adapt to drought conditions in Australia. In recent findings, it has been reported that eating kangaroo meat can help reduce greenhouse gas emissions. (Cooney et al p.1) Methane from the foregut of cattle and sheep constitutes 11% of Australia’s total greenhouse gas emissions. Kangaroos, on the other hand, are non-ruminant fore stomach fermenters that produce negligible amounts of methane. (George et al 2008 p.120)
Kangaroos have long been important to the survival of Australia’s Indigenous peoples, who have hunted kangaroos for tens of thousands of years for both the meat and the skins.
When Europeans arrived in Australia in the late eighteenth century, they too hunted kangaroos for survival. (Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade 2013) Aboriginal peoples maintain a strong belief that continued association with and caring for ancestral lands is a key determinant of health. Individual engagement with ‘country’ provides opportunities for physical activity and improved diet as well as boosting individual autonomy and self-esteem. (Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Tories Strait Islander Studies 2011) Garnett and Sithole (2007) have also identified a range of benefits from indigenous participation in natural resource management (NRM) they say that for indigenous people, it is increasingly documented that caring for country is intricately linked to maintaining cultural life identity, autonomy and health (Garnett and Sithole 2007). Increased support for Indigenous involvement in land and sea natural resource management programs would also deliver significant social benefits for communities including opportunities for sustainable and culturally appropriate regional employment, applied education and economic development. (Burgess et al 2009)
The commercial harvesting of kangaroos could provide significant economic basis for maintaining traditional culture. Currently there is minimal participation of indigenous people in the kangaroo harvesting industry. Davies et al. (1999) says that, although widely recognized as ecologically sustainable, the commercial harvest of kangaroos is not yet demonstrating social dimensions of sustainability. There is a lack of consideration of social and cultural issues in general. (Davies et al. 1999) Kangaroos are of cultural, social and spiritual significance to Aboriginal people. Aboriginal have people have a diversity of views about the appropriateness of killing kangaroos. In a number of communities or language group’s particular species of kangaroos hold such significant cultural value that the commercial hunting of kangaroos is culturally unacceptable and inappropriate. For some communities the hunting of kangaroos was inappropriate in some sacred places and expectable in other areas.
There are very few Natural resource management policies that actively incorporate views and knowledge aboriginal peoples and they have very little involvement in government decisions about kangaroo management. Research by Davis (2005) found that Aboriginal people frequently iterated a message that aboriginal people want to be involved in kangaroo management at all levels. Although Aboriginal people kill and eat kangaroos as part of their traditional diet, there are strict cultural protocols about how these practices are carried out. Traditional practices often conflict with those used in the commercial industry. (Thompson and Davis 2007)
If the industry actively employed and incorporated the interests of indigenous people it could became a way of providing meaningful employment and economic support for some of the most disadvantage people in Australia.
Indigenous Australians as a group generally experience high unemployment compared to the national average. This can be correlated to lower educational outcomes. As of 2002, the average household income for Indigenous Australian adults was 60% of the non-Indigenous average. (Australian bureau of Statistics 2010).
There is very little indigenous involvement in the Kangaroo Industry in Australia and there are currently no programs or policy to help Indigenous people became involved in the industry.
Indigenous involvement in sustainable wildlife harvest has been advocated as an avenue for economic development in indigenous communities in numerous reports.” (Thomsen and Davies 2005 p.1241)
Only one Aboriginal person in South Australia has held a permit for commercial kangaroo harvesting in recent years. Other states have similarly low levels of Aboriginal involvement in the kangaroo industry. (Thompson and Davis 2007) Kangaroo harvesting is often conducted on aboriginal land or land covered by a native title claim. In South Australia 50% of land where kangaroos are harvested is covered with a native title claim. The very low average incomes of Aboriginal people in remote regions severely restrict their capacity to harvest kangaroos effectively. This is due to the high cost of purchasing, running and maintaining equipment. This also impacts on Aboriginal people’s attitude to commercial kangaroo harvest. From the point of view of Aboriginal people who have difficulties getting the equipment and licenses they need to hunt effectively commercial harvesters can appear to have unfair easy access to a very important resource. (Thompson and Davis 2005)
There are significant opportunities for the development of the kangaroo harvesting industry in culturally appropriate ways. With targeted development of the industry designed to provide economic bases for maintaining indigenous communities and economic means to insure ongoing traditional practices. Involvement of aboriginal people in the kangaroo industry may also help to resolve some of the outstanding social problems indigenous communities have. There are a number of market mechanisms that could be used such as, giving indigenous people rights to a percentage of the quota for the kangaroo harvest. Developing micro finance loan schemes that would help indigenous people can afford the startup costs of the industry and developing culturally appropriate training programs and licensing systems.
I would like to focus my research on developing a Fair Trade product labeling system that allows consumers to purchase kangaroo products that provide a fair and equitable financial return to aboriginal communities. Consumers are increasingly interested in “the world behind the product they buy, how, where and by whom the product has been produced” (Topfer, UNEP in Hargroves & Smith 2005, p. 123). A fair trade product labeling system would allow consumers to make a deliberate decision to pay a slightly higher price for a product with the knowledge that the extra money they are paying is going towards supporting indigenous community development. In their review of business opportunities and innovation for the 21st century, Hargroves and Smith (2005) conclude “that there is a strong business case for the move by innovative companies to certify their products and services using ecological and fair trade labeling schemes.” (Hargroves and Smith 2005 in Thompson and Davis 2007 p.9) The money generated through the sale of these fair trade products could be used for a community development fund to provide culturally appropriate education, research and industry training that would empower more aboriginal people to participate in the kangaroo harvesting industry. There are potential opportunities for the kangaroo industry to engage with outstanding issues of Aboriginal rights and access to resources because of the rising interest from consumers in products that can demonstrate they are ‘traded fairly’. (Hargroves and Smith 2005 in Thompson and Davis 2007) Aboriginal-endorsed products are likely to have increasing market appeal because of widespread support for reconciliation amongst the Australian public, strong and growing public endorsement of the importance of Aboriginal culture to Australia. (Roy Morgan Research 2006) There are significant knowledge gaps in the academic literature about aboriginal peoples desires and ideas for the kangaroo industry. There has been little too no research about how Aboriginal people would like to develop the kangaroo industry and in what ways would they like to participate in it. There has been
“No previous research that has examined aboriginal rights, interests and aspirations in relation to commercial kangaroo harvest and its management. Opportunities for the kangaroo industry to address social dimensions of sustainability such as through negotiated agreements with Aboriginal traditional owners may support development of differentiated Fair Traded products for growing niche markets.” (Thomson and Davies 2007 p. x)
There are significant opportunities for further research on this subject and it would be interesting to compare Sami and Inuit experiences with the development of natural resource harvesting industries.
Simeon Buckley 2013.
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