TACKLING MALNUTRITION WITH AQUAPONICS

Remote Indigenous towns lack access to fresh fruit and vegetables, which is causing widespread malnutrition. But aquaponics is a new form of technology helping communities to grow their own fresh produce. The Milk Moustache’s Alexia Attwood reports.

VO: Devastating. This is how Amnesty International Secretary General, Salil Shetty, described his visit to the remote Indigenous Community of Utopia in the Northern Territory. Many people here are severely malnourished and living in extreme poverty. The community purchases fruit and vegetables at the convenience store where the turnover is infrequent, the produce is rotting, and the prices are unreasonable, causing people to turn to cheaper, processed, and nutrient-deficient foods.

Rodney Dillon is Amnesty International Australia’s Indigenous Rights Coordinator. He said the Secretary General was confused as to why Australia’s government had failed to address the problem of malnutrition in Indigenous communities.

Rodney Dillon: His concerns was that this is one of the richest countries in the world, with the most resources, and yet we’ve got aboriginal people who are the traditional owners of this country, who are so poor. And you know, there is malnutrition in some of those places.

VO: Sarah Doherty, the Chief Executive of the Utopia Medical Clinic, says it is difficult for the residents of Utopia to eat well, as many people do not own fridges or stoves and are uneducated when it comes to knowing what is healthy.

Sarah Doherty: There’s one store. You have to drive 300km to go to the next store, and you may not have a vehicle to do that. Your basic card, your income management, may be just directed at this store, so you don’t have any choice about going anywhere else. So the store doesn’t provide meals and ready-prepared things that are healthy. It provides basics. So people like to access foods that are quick and easy, and don’t have to take home and cook. They don’t necessarily have a working stove. They don’t have a working refrigerator or working washing machines.

VO: But new technologies are being implemented everyday to increase remote communities access to fresh fruit and vegetables, and educate people about nutrition. One of these new innovations being used in Utopia is aquaponics. This system pumps water from fish tanks through gravel grow beds, and then returns the water, creating a recycled natural environment where plants can grow. The same amount of vegetables can be grown as in regular dirt gardens, but with 90 per cent greater water efficiency, making this system ideal for Australia’s arid climate. Sarah Doherty says the Jack Thompson Foundation is helping to implement these systems in Utopia.

Sarah Doherty: The Jack Thompson Foundation injects training, injects that sort of thing for the community to learn how to do things for themselves, and there isn’t very much outside assistance, but that has been helpful. Through CDP, people have been coming in and learning about aquaponics, and then the idea is to have a working vegetable garden that is sustainable and can supply the store.

VO: Murray Hallam is the founder of Practical Aquaponics. He has set up aquaponic systems all around Australia, including at some Indigenous schools in the Northern Territory, and intends on setting up many more.

Murray Hallam: Without a shadow of a doubt, we are the world leaders in this technology at this point in time, and we look forward to getting it more into Aboriginal communities that are, for example, close to a mining situation, where this would be a great way to provide the mining camp with the fresh vegies they need, you know lettuce and tomatoes and the like, and it provides good health amoungst the community itself, as well as work and business opportunities.

This is Alexia Attwood, reporting for The Milk Moustache.

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