Plant Business
Main project photo by Ange Vincent

Plant Business

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Read the latest Plant Business Project Update: January 2015.


This project will develop a model for improving native plant varieties to make horticultural production of bush foods more efficient and profitable.

The focus is on sustained growth of value with the Bush Tomato trade as a case study, to increase business opportunities for remote Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

The project also explores ways that laws and institutions can help Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to achieve different needs and aspirations associated with their Traditional Knowledge, and to secure greater returns for the genetic resources that are used commercially.


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Many of the key aspects of Bush Tomato production processes, from grower to market to retailer, are already understood.

Researchers and industry participants now better understand stocks and flows of Bush Tomatoes across value chains over time; the main sources of product, trading and sales points; the trade-offs between wild harvest and horticultural production for consistency of volume and quality of supply; as well as benefits to Aboriginal people.

Essential research has also described the situation of Aboriginal people in the value chain and the equity share and benefits they get from the commercial industry.

Biological research has revealed much about the production performance of wild-type specimens under horticultural conditions, as well as storage management and plant chemistry, the genetic range and plasticity of Bush Tomato grown from seedlings. This has contributed to horticultural strategies for the product and industry.

The Plant Business research will develop the horticultural, fruit quality and genetic understanding and engage Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander groups in consultation about plant improvement with a view to gaining approval for the use of plant varieties developed from defined geographic locations.

A significant parallel theme of the research is a detailed analysis of the variety of approaches available for safeguarding the needs and aspirations of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people associated with Traditional Knowledge being commercially utilised.

Strategies including conventional legal approaches, international protocol compliance, trademarks, certification and Knowledge Trusts, as well as Fairtrade, geographical indicator schemes and other ethical marketing avenues, will be explored. This will deliver tools to assist in maximising benefit sharing for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people from the utilisation of cultural heritage.

Recommendations will be developed to suit different commercialisation situations. 


  • Genetic collection of Bush Tomato selections established as intellectual property (IP) in trust for Aboriginal owners.
  • New horticulturally suitable plant varieties that are more likely to be economically profitable under cropping.
  • Protection of plant varieties leading to licences for their usage.
  • Alternative strategies for safeguarding the utilisation of cultural heritage.
  • Training material to support the establishment of small businesses (if applicable).
  • Education: at least two postgraduate students.
  • Aboriginal researchers trained to continue to develop plant varieties for commercial benefit.
  • Reports, papers, and products in other media to effectively communicate the results with stakeholders.


The engagement of Aboriginal people in the Bush Tomato industry, as well as the pioneering of a model which can be used for the development of other plant-based economies.

Models for safeguarding commonly-held cultural heritage to ensure return of benefits from utilisation of Traditional Knowledge is maximised.

Costed impacts include:

  • new plantings of up to 20 ha of high yielding and quality Bush Tomatoes
  • new jobs for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people
  • returns from licences to use protected plant varieties.

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For more information, contact:

Assoc. Prof. Slade Lee, Principal Research Leader

phone: +61 419 474 251


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