From 23rd September to 26th September, 2015, Dr Nick Rose, Executive Director of Sustain: The Australian Food Network, and Kym Kruse, Director, RegenAG®, visited the Cook Shire in the Cape York Peninsula of Queensland, for a series of meetings with diverse community, business and government stakeholders. The focus of the visit was to explore the opportunities in the region for the establishment of a food sovereignty pilot, supporting stronger and expanded connections for local producers with both the local community and adjacent regions. A particular topic of interest was the capacity of the Cook Shire Council, under its by-law making powers, to prepare a by-law that would make direct exchanges between local producers and local consumers more feasible by easing some of the existing restrictions around labeling, inspections and related matters.
The visit was highly successful (see link to the Media Release below), revealing both strong enthusiasm for Council’s plans to focus on agriculture and food as a key pillar of its regional economy development strategy, and multiple opportunities for partnerships and collaborations amongst producers and food businesses, local, state and federal government institutions and agencies, community organisations and groups, and residents of Cook Shire.
“I congratulate Cook Shire on its vision and leadership in embracing the challenge of working with all community stakeholders to re-create a fair, sustainable, resilient and thriving food system for the shire and for Far North Queensland. I believe this will send a signal to other municipalities in Queensland and beyond, setting the standard for best practice in food system policy and implementation in Australia”, said Dr Rose.
To access the Media Release that followed the visit, click here: MR_CookShireFoodSovereignty_121015_vf
Dr Rose and Mr Kruse were both highly impressed by the knowledge, capacity and diverse range of experience represented by the stakeholders with whom they met. The natural assets of the region are substantial, as is the experience, knowledge, resilience and capability of the residents. The visit revealed the crucial role that the Cook Shire Council can play in terms of enabling and facilitating the development of positive and constructive partnerships, establishing a supportive policy framework for an expanded and diversified local and regional food economy, and leveraging opportunities for resourcing.
Recommendations / Next steps
Dr Rose and Mr Kruse recommend the following as potential follow up actions for the Council and the NRM to consider in terms of taking this process forward in a constructive and timely manner, so as not to lose momentum:
- Work with local producers to map out the critical regulatory issues they are currently facing, especially as regards sales in local markets / shops to local consumers
- To use the results of that mapping exercise to prepare, in consultation with appropriately experienced lawyers, a Cook Shire Food Sovereignty by-law that addresses the critical food sovereignty issues in terms of greater ease of commercial transaction between local producers and local residents
- Undertake an audit of food production in Cook Shire to determine who is growing what (and in what quantities), and to identify key gaps and capacity in production
- Work with producers, local businesspeople and community organisations to promote awareness of, and celebrate, local food (e.g. with cooking demonstrations at the produce market)
- Support Cooktown Food Connect to explore options for restarting the enterprise, including the identification of barriers and pathways
- Install signage at visible and appropriate locations in Cooktown promoting local produce
- Work to support the re-constitution of the Cook Food Group, which could for example support producers to gain access to new varieties, and support the formation of a farmer co-operative; as well as organize and run workshops facilitated by RegenAG® to support and train producers to transition to more sustainable production methods and help farmers produce more of their own organic inputs
- Continue to support the Cooktown Produce Market
- Create a Food Systems Profile of the Cook Shire Food System using the Circles of Food framework in a participatory process with stakeholders from across the food system; this will also identify critical issues, and inform the development of a Regional Food Strategy
- Work with the NRM and other regional stakeholders, including FNQROC, to develop a Food Strategy for FNQ that supports long-term, sustainable, fair and resilient food production and supply for the region; and which makes good food available to all FNQ residents as a matter of basic human rights