South Australia’s Ngarrindjeri people have launched a new multimillion-dollar venture by commercialising the harvesting of small clams, or, pipis.

Funded mainly by the Federal Government’s Indigenous Land and Sea Corporation (ILSC), the new venture is named Kuti Co – after the local name for pipis, kuti.

The funding from the ILSC has allowed Kuti Co to obtain a fishing licence and a large quantity of commercial pipi quota.

Operating on Ngarrindjeri Country, the enterprise will harvest pipis in the Lakes and Coorong fishery and is expected to provide employment for over 30 local Aboriginal people over the coming years.

With South Australia’s pipi beds in the Lakes and Coorong fishery holding an estimated 60 percent of the national stock, Kuti Co represents a unique commercial opportunity for the Ngarrindjeri people.

Kuti Co will also become a major shareholder in Australia’s biggest pipi marketing and processing company, Goolwa PipiCo, allowing the organisation to boost its market share of the fishery.

“What we’re doing with the Ngarrindjeri group is breaking new ground,” said Goolwa PipiCo Chair, Roger Edwards.

“We hope the success of this venture will translate to other projects of this type in commercial fishing enterprises.”

Ngarrindjeri leader and Kuti Co CEO, Derek Walker, said the Ngarrindjeri people have always aspired to commercialise the kuti harvest, however the opportunity only showed itself in late 2015.

“[It’s] been a longstanding agenda issue for us in and around Native Title,” Mr Walker said.

Mr Walker said the new business will provide employment opportunities for local Ngarrindjeri people as well as offering some economic stability.

“In the last few years return on investment has been really good and so purely from a business perspective it was a fishery that could provide some opportunities [and] we saw that.”

Kuti Co plans to sell their product to high-end restaurants and reinvest the revenue back into the business.

“The initial plan is to develop into a sustainable business that provides some employment,” Mr Walker said.

“Into the future we want to be in the fishing industry in the Lower Lakes and Coorong [area].”

For the Ngarrindjeri people, kuti have sustained them and their ancestors for thousands of years.

From the Sir Richard Peninsula to the Younghusband Peninsula, kuti can be harvested for kilometres.

“There are hundreds of them … [kuti] are indicators of our gathering, eating, of our cultural economy,” Mr Walker said.

“We have an intimate relationship in and around that area, most particularly with the protein source that sustained us. Very important [as] a cultural, economic and sustainable process.”

The new venture will also allow Ngarrindjeri Traditional Owners to be directly involved in sustainably managing the fishery in their Native Title determination area along the Coorong coast.

Goolwa PipiCo has also launched the Kuti Shack on Goolwa Beach – a local café offering local Indigenous ingredients and kuti dishes.

“We believe that the Kuti Shack partnership is an opportunity to promote and sell our product,” Mr Walker said.

“There’ll be recipes that have bush tucker ingredients in them, which we think will promote the opportunity for us around harvesting and gathering bush tucker.”

Mr Walker said Kuti Shack will also provide more training and employment opportunities for Ngarrindjeri people.

“There are a couple of young Ngarrindjeri involved there and [they] will be involved in the future serving, training [and] developing.”

While Mr Walker acknowledges it’s early days for Kuti Co, he hopes to one day generate enough income to reinvest into community.

By Hannah Cross