Australia's First Nations knowledge is inspiring tech for the future of agrifood
Leading entrepreneurs will share personal and business experiences at AgriFutures evokeAG. 2024, as well as the successes – and the challenges – they’ve seen firsthand with the convergence of cultural Intellectual Property and western innovation.
Australia has a lot to offer at this intersection, and the potential is immense. The largely untapped and known First Nation’s knowledge, embedded in the natural assets, and of our First Nations leaders presents an internationally unique opportunity to Australian agrifood enterprises.
Proud Maiawali man and Chief Rainmaker at Rainstick, Darryl Lyons is leading by example.
An AgriFutures evokeAG. 2024 panellist, and founder in its Startup Alley, Darryl is passionate about the potential of combining First Nation’s wisdom with modern tools and science to effectively address the challenges posed by climate variability.
“There is untapped potential in integrating traditional knowledge systems with modern Australian agriculture. It’s this huge opportunity,” Darryl said.
And Darryl’s working on it – in an innovative way.
“The Maiawali culture used a ‘chuggera’, a rain stick to influence weather systems and create thunderstorms because we know how important that is to grow food,” he explained.
“Now, we’re integrating new tools into our existing Maiawali philosophy to develop innovative technology for generating electric fields.”
Rainstick mimics the electric effects of thunderstorms to treat seeds in a way that increases the yield of food crops without altering on-farm practices. Working at the junction of electrochemistry and plant biology, the team influences the electrical signals between cells inside the plant and their environment. This can lead to increased germination rates, biomass and early vigour.
“Ultimately, our mission is to make a significant impact on the severe climatic challenges that are facing our producers,” Darryl said.
Linking ancestors guide the future of agriculture
As he explored his own Maiawali heritage, Darryl considered how his ancestors were known as the rainmakers, along with anecdotal evidence from farmers about the effect of a lightning strike on crops.
This journey motivated him to research available data, solidifying his belief that there was great potential for his cultural knowledge to contribute to agricultural sustainability. Increased leaf size, weed resistance, seedling growth and yield all fell into the realm of possibility.
And while productivity gains for Australian agriculture are a huge driver, the significance of the cultural IP and continuation of the living knowledge system are key considerations for Rainstick.
“One percent of Rainstick will go to the Maiawali Foundation in perpetuity, which is there to protect the Maiawali cultural heritage,” Darryl said.
“Written into our company constitution and shareholders agreements are key company values around the importance of continuing to acknowledge the contribution of Indigenous Cultural and Intellectual Property has to the impact that Rainstick aims to have on the future of agriculture.”
First Nations talent front and centre
Wonnarua woman and internationally acclaimed businesswoman Amanda Healy will share the stage with Darryl. Amanda is the Founder and CEO of the Perth based company Kirrikin, which showcases contemporary Indigenous Australian art in its luxury clothing and accessories, in Australia and internationally.
The significance of the living knowledge system and ongoing powerful role of cultural stories is not lost on Amanda, a Wonnarua woman from the upper Hunter Valley who now calls Western Australia home.
“For me, the most important thing is we are going to be showcasing Indigenous talent right here in our country. This is an incredibly important exercise for us as a group of people, not just here in Western Australia, but also for the rest of Australia,” Amanda said.
“I’ve worked all over the world, and for the first time in my life, we’re seeing a strong embrace of our Indigenous culture and what we’ve got to offer.”
Wattleseed, pepperberry and a rediscovery of culture
As interest in bush food and contemporary integration of native vegetation become more mainstream across Australia, Amanda stressed the value of the knowledge and wisdom to ensure, traditional land management practices and cultural IP must not be underestimated.
“We have walked on this country for at least 60,000 years and in complete harmony with nature. There is an opportunity for Indigenous people, but also for Australia, to embrace and understand what we have to offer, and to see how we can impact both the agricultural future of Australia and its environmental future,” Amanda said.
“I’m really keen for more people to understand our stories and share our understanding of the country that we live in.
“When I was young, using native ingredients was pretty commonplace. Dad used to make the most amazing roast lamb stuffed with pepperberry and garlic, and then he would make a river mint jelly and it was divine. All my friends’ nanas made wattleseed cakes which then disappeared for years because it was thought to be uncool because it was local. But now it’s all coming back.
“People are interested in the flavours of the bush which are quite incredible, but we have much broader things to offer with our unique cultures and methodologies.
“We’re not American and we’re not English, and we should be proud of that and embrace it. I can see a real shift in the country as Australia is changing and what we offer will be increasingly available to the rest of the world.”
Keen to continue this conversation? Hear from Amanda, Darryl, alongside John Gibbs, Founding Partner and Head Brewer, Spinifex Brewing Co., Oral McGuire, Founding Director, Noongar Landholder Enterprises and Chair, Yaraguia Enterprises. Facilitated by Dr Terri Janke, Solicitor Directo, Terri Janke and Company will facilitate the panel discussion, ‘The convergence of cultural IP and western innovation’ at AgriFutures evokeAG.. evokeAG. 2024 will take place on 20-21 February in Perth, Western Australia.