National Strategy for Food Security in Remote Indigenous Communities



Monday, 7 December 2009

A Strategy agreed between:

  • the Commonwealth of Australia and
  • the States and Territories, being:
    • the State of Queensland;
    • the State of Western Australia;
    • the State of South Australia; and
    • the Northern Territory of Australia.

This Strategy will contribute to the Council of Australian Governments' targets for Closing the Gap in Indigenous disadvantage and is a schedule to the National Indigenous Reform Agreement.

Introduction

In July 2009, COAG requested the development of a National Strategy for Food Security in Remote Indigenous Communities (the Strategy).  This document sets out the Strategy, which is a schedule to the National Indigenous Reform Agreement (NIRA).

Improving the food security of Indigenous people living in remote Indigenous communities will require sustained action across all sectors and governments to address the structural and systemic problems that have resulted in poor food security for many remote Indigenous communities.

Specifically, the response will require a coordinated and targeted approach aimed at both providing a secure, sustainable and healthy food supply to remote Indigenous communities; and actions aimed at increasing the purchase and consumption of this healthy food.

This Strategy builds on the experience of all relevant jurisdictions in working with Indigenous people in remote areas, and recognises that approaches to implementation will reflect the different circumstances of Indigenous people and communities in each State or Territory.

Continued consultation and engagement with Indigenous people in remote communities will be fundamental to the success of this Strategy and will inform ongoing implementation of agreed actions.

This Strategy outlines the underlying evidence for action and identifies specific strategic actions that can be taken by all relevant jurisdictions to improve food security in remote Indigenous communities.  The focus is on priority areas where the evidence shows a high level of impact can be achieved.

In addition to these actions, it is recognised that a very significant contribution to addressing the needs of Indigenous Australians living in remote Australia has been made through COAG’s agreement to a range of Indigenous specific and mainstream COAG National Partnership Agreements in the areas of housing, education, early childhood, economic participation and health. 

Drawing upon these agreements will form an important part of the overarching response to improve food security in remote Indigenous communities.

Box 1:  What is food security?

Food security is defined as:

‘the ability of individuals, households and communities to acquire appropriate and nutritious food on a regular and reliable basis using socially acceptable means.’

Food security is determined by people's local 'food supply' and their capacity and resources to 'access and use that food'. 

Food supply refers to ‘the availability, cost, quality, variety and promotion of foods for local population groups that will meet nutritional requirements.’

Food access refers to ‘the range of physical and financial resources, supports, and knowledge, skills and preferences that people have to access and consume nutritious food.’

What the evidence tells us

Improving food security in remote Indigenous communities would be expected to have far reaching and long-term health and economic benefits for people in these locations.  Improving the affordability, quality and availability of healthy foods is likely to increase the consumption of these foods and reduce the diet related burden of disease for Indigenous people in remote Australia and help close the gap in Indigenous disadvantage.

In particular, increasing the supply and consumption of healthy foods and reducing consumption of products high in fat, sugar and salt would be expected to reduce the current levels of preventable diet related chronic disease among Indigenous people – a major contributor to the gap in life expectancy (see Box 2).

In addition to benefiting individuals, greater food security would be expected to have broader net benefits for communities and the nation, although these are often hard to quantify in advance and may take some time to be realised.  In particular, the costs associated with health care and welfare dependency due to disabilities would be expected to fall and productivity and participation in the workforce would be expected to increase.

Achieving these benefits will be challenging.  Food security in many remote Indigenous communities is currently poor – the supply of healthy food is often sporadic and of limited choice and low quality and access, through adequate equipment and resources required for safe food storage and preparation, is limited.

The cost of fresh and nutritious food in stores in remote Indigenous communities is consistently found to be significantly higher than that experienced in urban and regional Australia.  For instance in the Northern Territory, the cost of food in remote stores in 2008 was found to be, on average, around 23 per cent higher than in Darwin.  In Queensland, the cost of food in very remote stores in 2006 was found to be a third higher than Brisbane, while a 2007 survey of prices in the Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara Lands in South Australia found prices to be around 42 per cent higher than in Adelaide. 

In part, higher prices may be attributed to high store costs, particularly with regard to freight and storage, resulting from remoteness, small population size and geographic dispersion – factors common in many small remote locations.  For example, Queensland has a supply chain of up to 3,000 kilometres which is impacted by seasonal conditions such as Wet Season road closures requiring expensive air freight.  While high prices for fresh healthy food are not unusual outside major metropolitan centres in Australia, the impact on food security is greatly exacerbated in remote Indigenous communities, where household incomes are often very low and there are few or no alternatives to the local store.

Food quality in remote Indigenous stores is also often poor and well below the standard found in urban and regional centres.  Similarly, food availability is often limited and variable – some communities have periods when they do not have access to any fresh food.  For instance, a 2004 survey of remote Western Australian communities found that respondents in 17 per cent of communities did not have regular access to fruit and vegetables and that 84 per cent of communities had to travel an average of 101 kilometres to access fruit and vegetables.  In remote and very remote Queensland stores, almost one in ten healthy food items in a standard basket were not available for purchase. 

Food availability in remote and very remote Indigenous communities may also be severely impacted by the sudden closure of the community store or temporary disruptions to supply.

Box 2:  Food Security – Closing the Gap

Improving food security for the more than 80 000 Indigenous people living in very remote Australia would be expected to make a significant contribution to closing the gap in these locations, particularly with regard to life expectancy, infant mortality and educational attainment.

Closing the gap in life expectancy

The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Performance Framework 2008 suggests that improving the supply and consumption of healthy food in remote Indigenous communities is required to reduce the high levels of preventable diet-related chronic disease suffered by Indigenous Australians in these locations, including renal disease, heart disease and diabetes. 

  • It is estimated that up to nineteen per cent of the national Indigenous health gap is attributable to diet related causes, including low fruit and vegetable intake. 
  • In remote areas, 20 per cent of Indigenous people aged 12 years and over reported no usual daily fruit intake and 15 per cent reported no usual daily intake of vegetables. 
  • Nationally, Indigenous children aged less than four years suffer from nutritional anaemia and malnutrition at 29.6 times the rate for non-Indigenous children.

Closing the gap in child mortality

The youthful demographic profile of the remote Indigenous population, which has a larger percentage of mothers, babies and young children than the non-Indigenous population also highlights the importance of addressing food insecurity.

  • Poor diet and nutrition in pregnancy can reduce birth weight and increase the incidence of infant growth retardation, which increases the risk of death in infancy.
  • Poor early life nutrition and impaired growth can have life-long consequences for the health of mothers, with flow-on effects to current and future generations, including increased morbidity and mortality.

Closing the gap in educational attainment

There are well-recognised links between a healthy diet for infants and brain development and cognitive functioning, which flow on to attainment of literacy and numeracy skills, and school retention rates.

Strategic Actions

Improving food security and turning around the long-standing poor health outcomes for Indigenous people in remote Indigenous communities will require a multi-faceted and coordinated ongoing approach from all levels of government, Indigenous people and the non-government and private sectors to develop and implement effective and targeted actions.

For most Indigenous people in the remote and very remote parts of Australia, stores and takeaways are the primary sources of food and drink.   Improving and maintaining the standard of store and takeaway management, governance and infrastructure within remote Indigenous communities so that they provide a sustainable, affordable and nutritious food supply in an efficient and effective manner is critical to improving food security and is an overarching priority of this strategy. 

To this end, it has been agreed that, for the first time, a clear and consistent set of National Standards for stores and takeaways servicing remote Indigenous communities will be developed, with draft Standards to be piloted in ten (10) remote Indigenous communities by mid-2010 (Action 1).  Options to support the effective implementation of these standards, including a National Quality Improvement Scheme, will also be developed (Action 2). 

The parties to this strategy also agree that stores that are currently incorporated under State and Territory Associations Incorporations laws will be strongly encouraged to incorporate under the Corporations (Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander) Act 2006 (CATSI Act) (Action 3).  This will be an important step in improving the standard of governance and accountability in many stores servicing remote Indigenous communities.

As outlined above, improving the supply of healthy food is only one part of the response required to improve food security.  Ultimately, it will be the increased consumption of healthy food and drinks and reduced consumption of energy dense/nutrient poor food and drinks that will deliver the desired health benefits to Indigenous people in remote communities.  To help facilitate this, a National Healthy Eating Action Plan for remote Indigenous communities will be developed by mid-2010 (Action 4).

Successfully delivering existing and new actions to improve both the supply and consumption of healthy food depends on an adequately resourced, trained and supported workforce.  This will be driven by a National Workforce Action Plan to be developed by mid-2010 (Action 5).

Additional strategies should also be considered to address some of the fundamental issues facing food security in remote communities including freight subsidisation within supply chains and cross subsidisation within stores, and land tenure to enable establishment, upgrade or replacement of stores.  This is particularly important as food security is considered to be a basic need. 

Action 1: National Standards for stores and takeaways servicing remote Indigenous communities

Store and takeaway management, governance and infrastructure are all critical determinants of store and takeaway sustainability and quality and, in turn, food security.  New standards are required to ensure that the services and products (particularly healthy foods and drinks) provided by all stores and takeaways are safe, reliable and of an acceptable quality.

The parties to this strategy will develop National Standards for stores and takeaways servicing remote Indigenous communities in the following areas:

  • Retail management;
  • Financial management;
  • Governance;
  • Infrastructure;
  • Food and nutrition policy and promotion; and
  • Food preparation and safety (using existing regulations already in place).

In developing these National Standards, all parties to this Strategy agree to take into account existing regulatory requirements and avoid duplication.  It is further agreed that enforcing compliance with existing requirements, including those relating to food preparation and food safety, and promoting the new standards should be a priority for all levels of Government. 

Action 2: National Quality Improvement Scheme for remote community stores and takeaways to support implementation of National Standards

An effective mechanism is required to ensure that stores and takeaways in remote Indigenous communities meet the agreed minimum standards and encourage stores and takeaways to continually strive towards higher standards.

The parties to this strategy will investigate options for achieving this, including a National Quality Improvement Scheme with a presentation of options to COAG in mid-2010. 

Each option will clearly outline roles and responsibilities of all levels of Government; the cost of implementation; and the likely effectiveness in improving standards in remote community stores and takeaways. 

Consultation will be undertaken with key stakeholders and a Regulation Impact Statement will be prepared if required.

Action 3: Incorporation of stores under the CATSI Act

Ensuring high standards of governance and accountability of stores and takeaways in remote Indigenous communities is critical to improving store sustainability and quality and, in turn, food security. 

To achieve this, the parties to this Strategy agree that stores that are currently incorporated under State and Territory Associations Incorporations laws will be strongly encouraged to incorporate under the CATSI Act. 

Where applicable, State and Territory signatories to this Strategy agree to facilitate the transfer of stores under the CATSI Act through powers provided by existing State laws.  The Commonwealth, through the Office of the Registrar of Indigenous Corporations, agree to provide all necessary assistance and support for those stores that request incorporation under the CATSI Act. 

Action 4: National ‘Healthy Eating Action Plan’ for remote Indigenous communities

The impact of improving the supply of healthy food and drinks is greatest when coordinated with actions to promote healthy eating and increase demand for healthy food and drinks.  To achieve this, parties to this Strategy will develop a National Healthy Eating Action Plan for remote Indigenous communities that aims to build community capacity to promote healthy eating and specifically targets:

  • Research:  Investigate the factors that influence purchasing and consumption decisions in remote Indigenous communities, including price, and identify mechanisms to increase consumption of healthy foods;    
  • Promotion: Including, in-store and in-takeaway promotion of good quality and affordable healthy food and drinks and options to restrict the promotion and availability of energy dense/nutrient poor food and drinks;
  • Knowledge and Skills: Build food and nutrition knowledge, skills and attitudes in practices such as budgeting, purchasing, handling and cooking of healthy food, with a particular focus on women and with consideration of the benefits that may come from locally based food production;
  • Education: A coordinated Healthy Eating campaign for remote Indigenous communities and consideration of education initiatives focussed on children, including an increased focus on nutrition education at school; and
  • Utilization: Build on existing Indigenous housing initiatives to improve community and household food preparation and storage facilities.

This plan will be completed for consideration by COAG by mid-2010.

Action 5: National Workforce Action Plan to improve food security in remote Indigenous communities

The successful implementation of all initiatives aimed at improving food security in remote Indigenous communities requires an appropriately resourced, trained and supported workforce.

The parties to this strategy will develop a National Workforce Action Plan to improve food security in remote Indigenous communities, including the following:

  • Identification of a best practice model to build demand for healthy food in remote Indigenous communities.
    • The focus will be on increasing the nutrition workforce - nutritionists, community dieticians and advanced health workers (nutrition promotion) - and developing and supporting the capacity of the Indigenous workforce in these areas to promote healthy eating.
  • Identification of a best practice model to improve the supply of healthy food in remote Indigenous communities.
    • The focus will be on building, training and supporting a sustainable workforce for remote community stores and takeaways, including store managers and store support staff.

This plan will be completed for consideration by COAG by mid-2010.

Reporting and Monitoring

A formal review of the Strategy will be undertaken by December 2012. 

More frequent reporting on the strategy will be included in the Overarching Bilateral Indigenous Plans. 

This strategy is a living document.  As initiatives begin to take effect and change occurs, COAG will respond and this Strategy will be updated. 

Next Steps

All parties to this Strategy will nominate officials from their jurisdiction to progress the work outlined above. 

All parties agree that the draft Strategy will be piloted in up to 10 remote Indigenous communities, commencing by March 2010.

The pilots will:

  • Test the draft National Standards and effective mechanisms to achieve them (including consideration of the quality areas and principles for a National Quality Improvement Scheme) by mid-2010. Consideration will be given to solutions in all five Actions of the Strategy to improve food security.  The context is broad and inclusive of supply chain and other issues which contribute to the cost of and access to food. 
  • Inform the final National Workforce Action Plan.
  • Inform the final National Healthy Eating Action Plan.

This work will clearly identify the roles and responsibilities of all levels of Government; the cost of implementation; existing and potential resources and funding required.  All Parties will also examine possible sources of Commonwealth Own Purpose Expenditure and State and Territory Own Purpose Expenditure which could be re-prioritised to support solutions to meet or improve standards and other aspects of the Strategy.

The choice of pilot sites as well as the planning, management and oversight of the pilot in each location will be negotiated and implemented bilaterally.  This may include the capacity to test a regional or supply line approach to developing the National Standards component of the Strategy. 

The pilots will seek to develop a regional food security model to support and coordinate the implementation of the actions outlined in this Strategy along with other initiatives aimed at improving food security.  Where possible this could be pursued under the auspice of existing governance forums, including the Board of Management for the Remote Service Delivery National Partnership in selected remote communities.

The development of the final elements of the Strategy will be informed by the outcomes and the solutions identified in the pilot sites.

Coordinated actions, delivered in partnership with local communities and government and non-government sectors, are more likely to be sustainable and effective in improving food security.  To achieve this, the parties to this Strategy agree to consult with communities and, using existing mechanisms where possible, establish a forum for ongoing engagement between all levels of government and non-government stakeholders in the further development of the actions outlined in this strategy.

The Strategy proposes reporting to COAG on the development of the Strategy in mid-2010.