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Future-proof, fresh food supply crucial for remote communities

Photo: Future-proof, fresh food supply crucial for remote communities
Food security means having access to a range of affordable, safe and fresh foods – a fundamental human right that all Australians deserve. Unfortunately, a lack of food security and nutrition in remote communities puts many at risk of nutritional deficiency.

In response, Dietitians Australia has proposed 16 key recommendations as part of an ongoing Senate Inquiry into Food Pricing and Food Security in Remote Indigenous Communities.

Robert Hunt, CEO of Dietitians Australia, says a National Food and Nutrition Security Strategy, which includes voices from remote Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, is vital to creating practical solutions to support adequate food access.
"Local food stores often provide the only source of food available for purchase in the community. Food is a basic human right, and these stores need to be given the same priority status as health and education services."

Distance, climate, and store viability are just some of the challenges impacting food access and affordability in remote communities.

"We've heard recounts of mouldy tomatoes being sold at the local supermarket for more than $10/kg, and that's the only fresh option available. Others have reported a lack of variety of basic foods such as milk and bread and poor-quality cuts of meat being sold at exorbitant prices," says Mr Hunt. 

Lack of food choice also hinders essential lifestyle changes, which is particularly harmful to those with certain health conditions. 

Chronic diseases, many of which are related to a poor diet, account for 70 per cent of the gap in disease burden between First Nations and non-Indigenous Australians.

It is important that we improve food access to strengthen health in remote communities, explains Mr Hunt.

"Dietitians have reported some clients have tried to opt for wholegrain instead of white bread to assist with their health conditions, but sometimes this basic level of choice is not available.

Developing and delivering culturally relevant and community-owned nutrition programs are also central to supporting these communities. 

"Engaging an APD alongside an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community workforce is vital to championing good nutrition and health in remote communities."  

Amanda Hill, Dietitians Australia NT Engagement and Development Committee Chair, says food insecurity is almost ten times more prevalent in remote Aboriginal and Torres Strait communities than for the general population. 

"Working in the nutrition space in remote communities, we do often hear reports from clients and community members of difficulty accessing the desired range and quality of healthy foods in their community.

"There are challenges associated with the high cost of food in remote communities, and of needing to access emergency food relief or seeking support from family members if running out of food at home."

Food supply and insecurity make up a large proportion of the role of nutrition health professionals who serve these communities, explains Ms Hill.

"Due to the high rates of food insecurity in remote Australian communities, nutrition-related health problems are extremely common.

"Food insecurity often results in people having to make quick, convenience choices when accessing food. These convenience foods are often high in saturated fat, sugar and salt, which may satisfy immediate hunger, but they contain little to no nutritional value.

"We see high rates of diabetes, chronic kidney disease, cardiovascular disease, as well as malnutrition in children, including poor growth, iron deficiency and overweight, which impacts greatly on the lives of people in remote Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.

"Without addressing the root cause of these health issues, including the food people have access to and can afford, the health problems will continue to grow."

Food security is a complex and multifaceted issue influenced by several underlying social and ecological determinants, explains Ms Hill, but there are solutions.

"There is a strong need to improve communities' access to healthy food through increasing the range and improving the quality of healthy foods available, as well as strategies that reduce the cost of healthy foods in remote communities.

"We need to work closely with communities to understand better what resources and support they need to implement strategies to help their communities become more food secure," says Ms Hill.

Food Ladder, a not-for-profit, social enterprise promotes innovative solutions to food insecurity in the form of localised, solar-powered hydroponic greenhouses.

Kelly McJannett, CEO of Food Ladder, says what can be grown in remote communities, should be, and local food production systems need to be considered essential infrastructure in these areas.

"If we are to shift the needle on key health and wellbeing indicators in remote communities, people must be able to access affordable, fresh and healthy food from a locally produced source.

"Just as an oval at a school is essential for community health, the technology and the programs that allow for a secure supply of nutritious food should be too," says Ms McJannett.

Nova Peris OAM, former senator, Olympian, and Aboriginal food security and human rights campaigner, supports Food Ladder for sustainable change.

"We need solutions that give communities the power to grow their own fresh food.

"Long supply chains have been proven to be unsuccessful and expensive when it comes to essential fresh food supplies.

"They are quick to fracture in times of extreme weather or crisis such as Covid-19.

"Communities are cut off, leaving them with little or no access to nutritious food for long periods," says Ms Peris.

Supporting communities to be autonomous is critical and can be achieved with agri-tech systems like Food Ladder.

"These systems turn some of the longest supply chains in the world into the shortest in a matter of weeks.

"Communities can become self-sufficient by growing fresh, nutritious food year-round. With refrigeration, a barrier in some places, fruit and vegetables can be accessed directly from the source. People can get produce at its freshest."

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Haley Williams

Haley Williams has a Bachelor of Communication in Journalism and over a decade of experience in the media, marketing and communications industries.

She is a widely published journalist with a particular interest in writing magazine features on parenting, health, fitness, nutrition and education.

Before becoming a freelance journalist, Haley worked as a writer for NeoLife (a worldwide nutrition company), News Limited and APN News & Media.

Haley also has extensive experience as an SEO Content Writer and Digital Marketing Strategist.