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Sharing innovation.

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ABARE Outlook Conference Paper: Innovative Business, Enterprising Communities.

Mary Nenke - Copyright. February 2002.

Innovative business, enterprising communities

‘Sharing innovation’ by Mary Nenke Cambinata Yabbies

Cambinata Yabbies grew out of the recession of the late eighties. We were traditional wheat and sheep farmers at Kukerin, a tiny town (50 residents and about 280 people in the area) 300 kilometres south east of Perth. Wool prices had plummeted followed by wheat. With four of our six children being educated in Perth we were spending more than we were making. Every opportunity to reduce our expenditure and increase our income had to be maximised.

During the eighties my husband Michael, had started farming yabbies as a hobby so this was an obvious choice for supplementing income. Our son caught 50 kilograms and when we went to sell them to the wholesalers they rejected them as they were oversupplied. Within an hour of the yabbies being returned to a farm dam we had a request from friends for yabbies to supply a Perth restaurant. This was our first market - February 1991 - Cambinata Yabbies was born!

Our friends and neighbours soon asked us to buy and market their yabbies. By the end of the year we were buying yabbies from over thirty local farmers to restaurants throughout Perth and the Margaret River winery areas. By the end of 1993, Cambinata yabbies were arriving in Queensland, New South Wales, the Northern Territory and Singapore.

Our enterprise that had started with an old tank on the side of a dam had soon taken over much of the shearing shed. By 1994 we realised that we were no longer dealing with a hobby and it was decided to build suitable accommodation for Cambinata Yabbies. This time we took over the obsolete hay shed and turned it into an export establishment incorporating an industrial plant to treat the water . Our yabbies by now were destined for markets in Brussels and Hong Kong. In 1999 we doubled the size of our establishment and installed state of the art equipment once more innovative to the industry.

Now this all sounds plain sailing! Of course it wasn’t. Firstly we were in a new industry. Initially we thought no one was telling us anything but we grew to realise that little was known and although you could buy seemingly healthy yabbies they often died within a few days - particularly during summer. Our first attempt of building a biological reactor for the water turned out to be a biological disaster. We bought apparently healthy yabbies that died while purging. Markets defaulted on payment of goods received. Banks lacked confidence in aquaculture and made funding our development very stressful. Yabbies got lost in transit. Western Power took six months and $50 000 to upgrade our electricity to three phase to run our innovative refrigerated tanks. We had little control of supply and demand. My knowledge of international marketing had to grow from virtually nothing.

ABARE Outlook Conference Paper: Innovative Business, Enterprising Communities.

Mary Nenke - Copyright. February 2002.

Throughout our development our greatest assets have been our faith, family, community, other farmers, our optimism and sheer determination. When faced with a new obstacle we persevered until it was overcome. We worked closely with farmers and Fisheries WA researchers to improve each other’s knowledge of these delicious crustaceans. Without knowing what HACCP (hazard analysis and critical control points) was we developed quality control practices that insured that we reduced the stress on the yabbies and increased their shelf life. Now we can trace the source of each yabby and eliminate handling and quality problems through feedback to our farmers. We are quality assured with both AQIS and SQF2000 accreditation. Every March we hold a field day bringing together the whole chain from the farmers to Fisheries to Austrade to share each other’s knowledge and grow the industry, whilst throughout the year we have information displays at shows and publish a newsletter to disseminate information.

There are now over 600 farmers from an area 600 kilometres by 400kilometres who have supplied yabbies to Cambinata - about ninety percent are women. Although a recent survey showed that rural women are on average better educated than their city sisters, there are few opportunities for them to develop their own enterprise. We have found women excel at yabby farming, keeping excellent records, nurturing their “babies” and seeking continuously to improve production. It is our farmers that have motivated us to build markets and implement innovative handling practices and devices to reduce labour and time. Hearing how the “yabby money” has been used for an overseas holiday, to help educate children, buy a computer or in some cases put food on the table inspires us to continue to expand the industry.

It was at our first Food Exhibition in Singapore in 1996 that we first discovered how helpful government agencies could be. Western Australia’s Commerce and Trade and Agwest Trade and Development were coordinating the states displays and we found enthusiastic knowledgeable people keen to help us develop our international trade. We also learnt there was some limited government financial assistance available. The most valuable assistance was mentoring - whenever I needed advice I had someone to “bounce ideas off”, help me to develop marketing strategies, promotional materials and assess potential markets and buyers.

Over the last few years we have built a relationship with Austrade. They have assisted us in further developing markets. Last year for the first time we applied and received an Export Development Grant. This has allowed us to promote yabbies in Hong Kong, Singapore, Taiwan, Korea, United Kingdom and USA As yabbies are unique to Australia we have found it essential to present them to chefs, restaurants and five star hotels as well as seafood importers. We need to educate our customers in how to prepare yabbies, their sweet delicate flavour, versatility, health properties and other attributes. The experience has been deeply rewarding. It is a privilege to be an Australian ambassador - in my experience everyone loves our country and wants to know more. Australia is perceived as “clean and green”. We have the opportunity to capitalise on this image- it is no use producing something that the consumer doesn’t want. My experience in the market place has influenced me to be passionately opposed to Australia producing GM crops - they will damage our image and market potential.

ABARE Outlook Conference Paper: Innovative Business, Enterprising Communities.

Mary Nenke - Copyright. February 2002.

Where is Cambinata today - still growing, learning and developing. In 2001 Cambinata won the Best Regional Exporter Award for Western Australia - a wonderful honour for our family and staff and almost a “Cinderella” story coming from our tiny town of Kukerin. Plans for the future include a factory for our developing value added products together with a shop front and café to cater for tourists - linking with Kukerin and half a dozen small towns along a “wildflower corridor”. My vision is to build rural Australia through diversification and maximising the under-developed potential of women.

Lack of marketing expertise Lack of research available No knowledge of where or who to ask for advice Lack of understanding by the Bank Dishonest people Lack of payment for goods sold Western Power Drought Lack of local services - electrician - office equipment etc.

• very little knowledge Lack of marketing expertise Lack of research available No knowledge of where or who to ask for advice Lack of understanding by the Bank Dishonest people Power