Many refugees and former refugees come from farming backgrounds in their countries of origin and still strongly identify with their farming roots. Access to farmland is often a key barrier for those who wish to continue farming in Australia.
University of Wollongong and University of Melbourne academics, Dr. Natascha Klocker, Dr. Olivia Dun and Prof. Lesley Head, work in partnership with a community-based food cooperative, Food Next Door.
Findings from the research are used by Food Next Door to connect refugees and former refugees who are ‘landless farmers’ with donated farmland.
The aim is to support such refugees and former refugees to farm and grow culturally important crops. Research is conducted with refugees and former refugees to identify:
- Their farming knowledge and skills,
- Their reasons for wanting to farm in Australia,
- The crops they desire to grow and animals they wish to raise, and
- The barriers to and opportunities for farming in Australia.
The initiative began in 2016. To date, the academics have supported the establishment of refugee farming initiatives in the:
- Sunraysia region, Victoria. Members of Mildura’s Twitezimbere Burundian community have been successfully matched with three separate pieces of donated farmland (7 acres in total) in Mildura.
- Illawarra region, New South Wales. Private land donors, SCARF (Strategic Community Assistance to Refugee Families) and the region’s Karenni and Syrian communities have been successfully matched to establish a community garden on private farmland at Meroo Meadow, near Nowra.
The initiative is open to supporting any refugees, or former refugees, with a desire to farm but without the means to afford access to farmland. In the Sunraysia region, approximately 30 people have been involved. In the Illawarra region, approximately 30 people have been involved.
This initiative evolved spontaneously from research with former refugees from Burundi by academics Klocker, Head and Dun as part of a broader research project ‘Unlocking Sustainability and climate change adaptation: unlocking the potential of ethnic diversity’ funded by the Australian Research Council. The researchers were able to connect members of the Burundian community with Food Next Door (formerly Sunraysia Local Food Future) during a workshop held in Mildura in May 2016, and subsequently with farmland.
These refugee farming initiatives are currently being established via support from research grants, private donors (in the form of land and grants to cover irrigation costs) and several hundred volunteer hours. The main activities include:
- Facilitating meetings between refugees/former refugees and private land donors
- Establishing Memoranda of Understanding (MOUs) and operational guidelines for the land matching arrangement
- Training in relevant health and safety requirements and ensuring appropriate insurance coverage for the farming activities
- Setting up the land for planting
- Providing on-farm and hands-on training/workshops in regenerative farming practices suited to the local area (if needed). All such training is focused around ensuring that the former refugees have considerable autonomy over what they grow and how they grow it
- Evaluation of the farming initiatives by the academics; and
- Writing applications for University, philanthropic and government grants to secure funding for the above and future activities.
In Mildura, two seasons worth of maize, a culturally-important crop, have been grown and harvested by the Burundian community. Growing these crops in Australian soil with support from longer term Mildura residents has helped create a sense of belonging, improved well-being, and created a positive outlook for members of Mildura’s Burundian refugee/former refugee community. It has also provided food for over 100 members of Mildura’s and Adelaide’s Burundian communities.
In Meroo Meadow, 5-8 families will have the opportunity to begin growing culturally important crops over the coming months.
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