KAPCO – Kimberley pastoral enterprise putting Aboriginal people ‘in the driver’s seat’

Background

KRED Enterprises initiated the Kimberley Agriculture and Pastoral Company (KAPCO) project in 2012 to create a year-round supply chain and meaningful employment and training opportunities for Aboriginal people in remote West Kimberley communities.

KAPCO was KRED CEO Wayne Bergmann’ vision to revitalise the long history of Indigenous involvement in the Kimberley’s pastoral industry.

“Our old people were once the backbone of the pastoral industry in the Kimberley. Unfortunately, at that time, they weren’t paid for their work. They received food, water, the clothes on their backs, and a bit of tobacco. KAPCO is about putting Aboriginal people in the driver’s seat so we can create economic independence for ourselves on our own traditional lands. We don’t want to be reliant on government funding, we want to create our own jobs and our own opportunities”

As described in a 2017 Jawun case study, several Jawun secondees have brought business analysis and strategic enterprise thinking to the development of the concept.

KAPCO was initially comprised of three small-scale Indigenous-owned stations in the region (Mt Anderson, Bohemia Downs, and Frazier Downs). In early 2019, KAPCO acquired Myroodah Station on the Fitzroy River. This more than doubles its acreage and herd, with the four Kimberley properties totaling over 700,000 hectares and now operating as a coordinated system as a much larger scale. KAPCO is now the largest single Aboriginal pastoral business in the Kimberley. As well as returning it to traditional owners, it is hoped that Myroodah’s acquisition will elevate all KAPCO’s Aboriginal-owned stations to a level where they attract the interest of large investors.

Approach

Around ten secondees have supported KAPCO, either directly or through support to KRED Enterprises’ strategic and business development.

Secondees have brought business expertise to strengthen the design and delivery of KAPCO, and supported it to explore new opportunities. For example, KAPCO has long hoped to capitalise on the region’s close proximity to the Asian market, with a high demand for quality beef as diets change. Several Jawun secondees advised on the application of public policy, trade agreements and overseas investment rules, and future secondments have been lined up to build on their work.

KAPCO has long been envisaged an asset to be used for social and cultural initiatives. APS secondee Bridie McAsey mapped out its strategic plan for a youth diversionary project that will see at-risk youth taken on country for a deep cultural experience. The Marlamanu Project will take a long-term view of diversion and rehabilitation: young people will live and work on the stations over a sustained period, and KAPCO will build links with cattle stations across the region to facilitate employment opportunities. The strategy produced by Bridie McAsey includes draft funding applications, a plan for establishing strategic relationships, and an analysis of the regulatory requirements.

Most recently, KPMG secondee Thiluk Jayakody worked with KRED to consolidate its KAPCO experience and develop an overarching enterprise strategy. The intention of this strategy and its learnings is not only to shore up success of KRED enterprises. It is also intended to support the broader economic independence for Aboriginal people which Wayne Bergmann envisages. Its advice on sustainable revenue generation will be shared with other Aboriginal Corporations looking to expand pastoral interests and develop stock and station opportunities in a post native title determination phase.

Outcomes

Over the last 2 years, KAPCO’s cattle sales have been over $2 million, many Indigenous people have been trained and employed, infrastructure on the properties have been upgraded, and the cattle herd has been improved. Myroodah pastoral land, considered the crown jewel of KAPCO, now provides an infrastructure base for economically viable, efficient management of the initial three properties (i.e. fencing, yards, reliable waters). Land on all four properties is now being actively managed for weeds, feral animals and fire. KAPCO is providing on the job training, longer-term employment opportunities, mentoring and contracting opportunities for Aboriginal people in the region.

KAPCO has ambitious plans to increase the production capacity and profitability of the pastoral land, including breeding cattle with superior genetic composition, developing high-quality feed, irrigation schemes, fencing to keep out dingoes, and using dry land to farm native food. The goals for 2025 include:

●    KAPCO employs about 30-50 staff now and aims to engage 80

●    KAPCO’s four stations run 24,000 head of cattle and aim for 50,000 animals

●    KAPCO is valued at $35 million now and is expected to reach $50 million

Importantly and as with other sub-leases KAPCO holds, Traditional Owners maintain a right to use areas for smaller  initiatives or industries, conservation areas, or other enterprises that can co-exist with the pastoral business. Rangers are free to undertake conservation and land management projects on the property, and Nyikina Mangala people are free to access country for fishing, hunting, ceremony, and other activities so long as they do not interfere with the pastoral business.

In line with the Jawun model, secondees also benefit in terms of new understanding, learning and connections. Thiluk Jayakody reflected that the experience showed him “the sheer scale of KAPCO’s operations” which “enable Indigenous people to participate in the modern economy to create inter-generational wealth, while ensuring preservation of their traditions, culture and land”. For some, the impact also includes benefits for their organisation’s approach to Indigenous policy and programming. APS secondee Bridie for example, who worked on the development of an on-country youth diversionary project, intends to invest the learning back into the government policy apparatus she works in:

“A Jawun secondment in West Kimberley is an enlightening experience. The local Aboriginal community is vibrant, politically active, and incredible in so many ways. I want to use the knowledge I’ve gained about life, politics, and Aboriginal experience in the Kimberley as a lens for examining how Indigenous policy is done in Canberra”.

Next steps

Jawun will continue to support KAPCO and KRED with secondees for projects in line with what Wayne Bergmann refers to as a “quadruple bottom line”: ensuring the cultural, social, economic, and environmental well-being of the community. This includes the prosperity and financial independence of KAPCO, engagement with new markets, and development of viable social and cultural enterprises on country.

The vision is also to share learning on approaches to successful enterprise that can be adopted by Aboriginal organisations beyond KRED and the West Kimberley. KAPCO describe their business as demonstrating “what can be achieved through co-operation”. Wayne explains this by saying:

“As small nations standing by ourselves it is hard to make a living. It’s hard to employ a lot of people when we don’t have the scale of economy. By combining, we have the scale required to increase production and increase people on country”.