Part of RIRDC's mandate is to identify, research and invest in emerging agriculture industries across Australia that have the potential to boost our agricultural production and contribute to the sustainability and profitability of regional Australia. These emerging industries often start out small as alternative enterprises or income sources for rural and regional communities, but with the right support and circumstances, they become our future production powerhouses. Like avocados 30 years ago or canola oil 25 years ago, in time camel milk and jujubes could be mainstream consumer products and make large contributions to Australia's agricultural GDP.
The first fledgling industry to mention is camel milk. Milk from camels has been consumed by people for more than 6,000 years, much longer than we have consumed cows' milk. Currently, the global production and consumption of camel milk is dominated by countries in North and East Africa, the Middle East and parts of Asia, but that is changing.
While camel milk tastes and looks similar to cows' milk, its promoter's claim some impressive health properties that consumers in Australia and the United States are starting to catch on to. Some of these include the capacity to alleviate food and seasonal allergies, usefulness in reducing insulin dependency, ease of digestion and assistance with gut allergies associated with the autism spectrum, Crohn's Disease, ADD and ADHD. No doubt more research is required to validate some of these claims.
Sold in both pasteurised and unpasteurised form, demand for camel milk in Australia currently outweighs supply and the new-found popularity of the product is driving the expansion of existing camel dairies and development of new enterprises in Victoria and Queensland. Over the next five years, don't be surprised to see a major increase in Australian camel milk production.
The fact that camels are so well suited to Australian conditions and we have a large population of wild camels is also assisting with the growth of the industry. In fact, some dairies are domesticating wild female camels (also known as cows) to use as dairy camels.
As well as camel milk, in Australia, we're starting to see other camel dairy products emerge on the market including cheese, yoghurt, ice cream, camel milk powder and skincare. Some of these are already very popular and considered luxury items in the Middle East.
The next challenge for the Australian camel milk industry is transitioning from cottage industry to commercial scale. International investment is starting and momentum and awareness are certainly building but it will take time. Perhaps in 10 years camel milk will be eaten with Weetbix at breakfast tables across Australia and perhaps in coffee shops it will be another option alongside soy and almond milk?
Another new and emerging agricultural industry for Australia is a fruit called jujubes. While the tree has been grown successfully in Australia for the past 15 years, recent investments, research and increasing interest from farmers, especially in Western Australia, has seen the production of the fruit expand rapidly in the past three years.
The jujube is an extremely popular fruit in China and target markets for Australian production include China, Singapore, Malaysia, Hong Kong and Taiwan. For thousands of years, it has been used in traditional Chinese medicine and as food it is eaten fresh or dried or in processed form, where it is often known as a Chinese date. The latter is used in confectionary and for compotes and jam.
The fruit itself has a thin, dark red skin which surrounds its sweet white flesh. They have a high nutritional value and when eaten fresh they are crisp like an apple. When dried they become chewy and sweet.
The jujube's success in Australia isn't just down to how well the trees are suited to our climate and soil types, but also to increasing local consumer demand for the fruit. In Western Australia, there is now a market for jujubes and they are sold in Asian grocery stores in Perth as well as at weekend farmers markets.
That said, a lot of the excitement building about this industry is to do with its export potential. Australia's proximity to South East Asia and our counter-seasonal production to the northern hemisphere provide an opportunity for Australian growers to market their jujubes as a premium product. Our clean and green reputation certainly helps too. But there is still lots of work to be done to grow the industry in order to meet existing demand and future export potential.
Jujube grower and President of the West Australian Jujube Growers Association Inc. Pete Dawson was one of the first to compare the current state of his fledgling industry to the avocado industry 30 years ago[i] and predict that its future will be just as bright. Who knows, perhaps jujube jam on toast will be the next smashed avo in time?