The Sunraysia Burundian Garden arose via a collaboration between researchers from UOW (Natascha Klocker) and the University of Melbourne (Lesley Head, Olivia Dun), former refugees from Burundi (living in Mildura) and Sunraysia Local Food Future.
Many refugees come from agricultural backgrounds, but face obstacles to farming once in Australia. Our research in Mildura (funded via an ARC Discovery Project, 2014-2017) showed that many former refugees living in Australia have a desire to access land on which to grow culturally important crops, but can't afford to do so due to the cost of farmland. Some former refugees also struggle to access employment (due to low English fluency), and thus experience protracted unemployment. To date, the Federal Government has not put strategies in place that make the most of refugees’ existing skills as farmers, despite implementing a rural and regional refugee resettlement program. Following interviews with Mildura's Burundian community, we organised a stakeholder workshop in Mildura in May 2016. The goal: how could we come together to match ‘landless’ refugee farmers with unused farmland?
1. No poverty
3. Good health and well-being
8. Decent work and economic growth
10. Reduced inequalities
12. Responsible consumption and production
15. Life on land
Details of the Impact
The workshop (hosted by Sunraysia Mallee Ethnic Communities Council and Mildura Development Council) kick-started the Food Next Door (FND) project and the Sunraysia Burundian Garden. Following the workshop, volunteers from Sunraysia Local Food Future arranged access to one-acre of farmland; use of which was generously donated by a local business, Sunraysia Produce. The Burundian community planted their first crop of maize in September 2016, and this was successfully harvested in January 2017. The community will plant an additional crop in September/October 2017, and we are currently supporting them to apply for funding to purchase a maize milling machine to produce traditional maize flour: a staple part of the Burundian diet.
In addition to a successful maize harvest, evaluation interviews have revealed multiple impacts. This project has contributed to the Burundian community's sense of belonging in Mildura, and also to their physical and mental wellbeing. It has enabled them to demonstrate their farming skills and knowledge to the broader Mildura community, through growing a culturally important food crop. The project has also reduced isolation, particularly for women, by providing a productive activity that they can work towards as a group. Equally, it has strengthened connections between the Burundian community and the broader Mildura community, and has supported inter-generational transfer of traditional farming practices between adult members of the Burundian community and their children.
The project has generated positive spin-offs. The Burundian community has been offered an additional two acres of farmland, enabling their farming project to grow. Further, the success of our work in Mildura attracted publicity, leading farmers in Meroo Meadow (near Nowra) to approach us with a desire to do something similar. We were successful in attracting funding through a UOW Community Engagement Grant to make that happen. Finally, Food Next Door is seeking funding to create a community farm that extends the benefits of the Sunraysia Burundian Garden to a broader range of marginalised groups.
- Former refugees and their families from Burundi living in Mildura
- Sunraysia Local Food Future and Food Next Door volunteers
Approach to Impact
Summary of the approaches to impact
The remit of our broader research project (funded as an ARC Discovery Project, 2014-2017) was to develop insights into the environmental and agricultural knowledge and skills of migrants and refugees. In our research interviews with Mildura's Burundian community, their farming experience and expertise came to the fore. They also communicated a strong need and desire to farm in Australia with overwhelming clarity and purpose. Our job, as researchers, was to find a way to communicate that need to stakeholders in the region who could help us to make something happen on the ground.
Approach to Impact
Knowledge translation activities: based on our research findings, we prepared a briefing document and presentation, and organised a workshop bringing together key organisations in the Sunraysia Region. We were assisted in this by Mildura Development Council and the Sunraysia Mallee Ethnic Communities Council. We approached that workshop, and the briefing document, from a strength-based perspective. Having empirical data to bring to the table was crucial - especially because our research showed that the Burundian community came to Australia with strong farming skills, and that these skills were going to waste despite the fact that they were living in an agricultural region with tracts of vacant farmland.
Through the workshop, we were able to establish a relationship with a local NGO - Sunraysia Local Food Future. It was through that relationship that the Sunraysia Burundian Garden (and a successful maize crop) came about. We (the researchers) had identified a group of people (the Burundian community) who desperately wanted to farm, but did not have access to farmland. They (Sunraysia Local Food Future) had access to farmland and wanted to support local residents to grow food for local consumption. Essentially, we had found people who needed land, and they had found land that needed people!
The pathway to impact was to build a trusting, respectful and ongoing relationship with Mildura's Burundian community, and also with key local organisations. We did not want the Burundian community to feel that we were 'mining' them for data about their experiences, without providing any support in return. As a research team, we have visited Mildura 15 times between 2014 and 2017. Our repeated presence shows a commitment to the region, and to the organisations and community groups with whom we have conducted our research. To that end, our relationship is ongoing and will continue after the formal funding period is complete.