From the Northern Territory News, Australia
8 May 2006

Professor floats indigenous ownership of species

SPARKS will no doubt fly when a leading Territory researcher discusses the need for an increase in indigenous involvement in the economy at a public forum this week.

Charles Darwin University Professor of Tropical Knowledge Stephen Garnett believes ''innovative and brave'' legislation is required to benefit local livelihoods. He said there is endless potential for indigenous people to make money from the animals and plants on their land, but policy discourages them.

''There is a lot of thought on profitable businesses in the bush,'' he said. ''But at the moment if indigenous people are using something for food or medicine and they want to make money on it, there is not much stopping others from thinking 'that's a good idea' and doing it themselves.''

Prof Garnett used the example of central America's Pacific coast Vannameid prawns. ''In the 1970s they were taken ... as a way of enhancing the livelihoods of people in the Pacific and South America,'' he said. ''Now the species is the basis of industrial aquaculture worth billions, largely in East Asia. None of this money goes back to the people of the Pacific coast.''

He said if policy changes did not occur then indigenous Australians would take the same path.

''It would be harder for Aboriginal people to make a living off their land,'' he said.

''If something is identified as having commercial value, it should be given protection for some time, giving Aboriginal people the opportunity to build on it. And when we are writing the legislation we have to make sure those resources go back to Aboriginal people.''