Kuti Co – Strengthening the Ngarrindjeri Nation through their pipi harvest enterprise

Background

The Ngarrindjeri people have been harvesting pipis (or ‘kutis’ in Ngarrindjeri) in the region for over 10,000 years, evidenced by the numerous ‘middens’ found in and around the nearby sandhills in the Coorong and adjacent beaches.

Based in the Lower River Murray, Lakes and Coorong Region of South Australia, Goolwa Pipi Co Pty Ltd is regarded as one of Australia’s most progressive seafood companies and is the largest pipi processing and marketing company in Australia. The founding shareholders have over 100 years of combined pipi harvesting and marketing experience spanning three generations. As an enterprise, Goolwa Pipi Co have been operational since the early 1960s, using certified sustainable hand harvesting techniques with a ‘beach to plate’ philosophy, using a state-of-the-art processing facility and are committed to a sustainable long-term future working with Ngarrindjeri to honour Yarluwar-Rue (Sea Country) and help to create a secure future for Ngarrindjeri through commercial operations and employment. In 2016, Goolwa Pipi Co approached Ngarrindjeri leaders to explore the potential for a partnership with the Ngarrindjeri Nation.

Two years later and with the support of a multi-million dollar investment from the Indigenous Land & Sea Corporation (ILSC), a three-way partnership with Ngopamuldi Aboriginal Corporation and Ngarrindjeri Aboriginal Corporation (NAC), Kuti Co was established as a key shareholder of Goolwa Pipi Co, acquiring a fishing license with a goal to purchase 25% of the Lakes and Coorong Pipi Quota Units over 3 years, with a current holding of 15%. Working with Goolwa Pipi Co employment of Ngarrindjeri will result in approximately 12 jobs for the community in both harvesting and processing jobs, and provide significant economic, cultural and environmental benefits for the Ngarrindjeri Nation.

Approach

Jawun has worked alongside the Ngarrindjeri Nation in the Lower River Murray Region of South Australia since 2015, and have delivered 102 six-week secondments to support Ngarrindjeri-led priorities.

Working with Ngopamuldi Aboriginal Corporation and Ngarrindjeri leaders since the partnership commenced, secondees from Allens, Royal Automobile Association, Australian Public Service, South Australian Government, Woodside and Westpac have assisted with the initial funding proposal to the ILSC, partnership development, stakeholder engagement, branding, coordination of the official launch of Kuti Co, risk analysis, WHS documentation, and process development.

Many challenges were identified and subsequently worked through, including the ability of key partners to engage in this innovative sea country proposal due to capability and regulatory barriers. Investor education became a key part of the Jawun support and offering.

Importantly, investment by the ILSC into Kuti Co was their first entry into a sea country opportunity, following a change to the Indigenous Land Corporation remit to enable investment into water-based projects in early 2019. PIRSA (Primary Industries & Regions SA) were also key to early support for Kuti Co, who assisted with understanding processes and progressing quota unit purchasing and fishing licenses.

Outcomes

Throughout Kuti Co’s journey, new and emerging opportunities have presented themselves that have strengthened their reach in the Lower River Murray region, and expanded their brand nationally. In December 2019, Kuti Co saw the development of Kuti Shack, a local beachside café in the sand dunes of Goolwa (‘elbow’ in Ngarrindjeri), which features kuti on the menu as a star ingredient. Kuti Shack provides opportunities for the Ngarrindjeri community, including employment, traineeships and apprenticeships, and a place to highlight the important role kuti has played in Ngarrindjeri culture. During COVID-19 restrictions, Kuti Shack swivelled their café model to cook-at-home fresh ingredient kits and takeaway meals, often selling out of their popular Mulloway & SA Prawn Pies, and Pipi & Prawn Laksa kits.

An exciting opportunity to further support the Ngarrindjeri community achieve long-term sustainability and to develop the profile of a co-branded Goolwa Pipi Co and Kuti Co product in the premium goods segment has seen Kuti Co working with high-profile Australian chefs to develop recipes and prototype product development using native flora endemic to the Ngarrindjeri Nation.

For Jawun secondees, working with Ngarrindjeri organisations has not only been an opportunity to support a Ngarrindjeri-led enterprise, but has also provided important lifelong connections.

The secondment provided some wonderful opportunities that I will never forget, including talks with Ngarrindjeri elders during induction, sunrise visits to Goolwa beach for photos of the Ngarrindjeri harvest crew and meeting Jock Zonfrillo to discuss ideas for future product development.” Australian Public Service secondee, 2019

I have had an amazing journey and really appreciate the experience I have had. I’ve made so many connections and look forward to staying in contact with Ngopamuldi” – Westpac secondee, 2020

Next steps

Kuti Co continues to develop their business through a range of exciting activities and ventures; A Kuti Co trainee is currently working with Goolwa Pipi Co, ready to build and manage the Kuti Co team & beach crew, opportunities are arising for product distribution and sales increase with nation-wide leading supermarkets, and Kuti Co are investing in equipment which will improve and increase efficiencies of the harvest. Jawun will continue to support Kuti Co through virtual secondments (while travel restrictions remain in place), with a fantastic opportunity for a talented marketing and communications specialist to support Kuti Co in the development of co-branded product and marketing collateral.