With the World finding it hard to address the challenges faced by unsustainable food production practices, the Indigenous Peoples food systems are looked upon as the best placed to provide insights, lessons and empirical evidence that could facilitate the transition towards more sustainable food systems.
The new analysis “Indigenous Peoples’ food systems: Insights on sustainability and resilience from the front line of climate change” published last week provides nine insights whilst identifying obstacles that need to be considered. The Food and Agriculture Organisation, together with the Alliance of Bioversity International and the International Center for Tropical Agriculture , released the new study. The analysis looks into hundreds of diverse plant and animal species that indigenous people around the world depend on and care for to generate food sustainably and enhance biodiversity.
In the forward to the analysis, Chair of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues Anne Nuorgam said that indigenous peoples are amongst the most culturally diverse and traditionally unique societies on earth because of rich history, culture, spirituality, unique ancestral links and tremendous traditional knowledge. “Our ways of life, cultures and knowledge systems have been passed on for centuries,” she said.
Noting that indigenous peoples are amongst the longest living cultures in the world, she said their land and territories are as diverse as the groups. “Our territories encompass over a quarter of the world’s land surface, and intersect about 35 percent of all terrestrial protected areas and ecologically intact landscapes in the world Indigenous Peoples’ wisdom, traditional knowledge and ability to adapt provide lessons from which other non-indigenous societies can learn, especially when designing more sustainable food systems that mitigate climate change and environmental degradation.”
“We are all in a race against time with the speed of events accelerating by the day. It is crucial to recognise Indigenous Peoples as key players in achieving the 2030 Agenda and to create larger spaces for more inclusive dialogues recognising the vast lessons to be learned from them, she said.
The FAO said that the Indigenous people generate hundreds of food items from the environment without depleting natural resources and achieve high levels of self-sufficiency. For example, the agency points out to the knowledge in the Solomon Islands among the Melanesians who combine agroforestry, wild food gathering and fishing to generate 70 per cent of their dietary needs. In Finland’s Arctic region, the Inari Sámi people generate 75 per cent of the protein they need, through fishing, hunting and herding.
In the report, the authors say that indigenous peoples play a vital role in countering global threats such as climate change, destruction of nature, biodiversity loss and risk of future pandemics.
The world has about 478 million indigenous peoples.
RECOGNITION OF INDIGENOUS PEOPLES WITHIN THE COUNTRIES THEY INHABIT
Despite Indigenous Peoples and their food systems existed for thousands of years, the analysis finds that several Indigenous Peoples across the world see their existence unacknowledged in national legislation and normative frameworks after the creatrion of today’s modern states. They are still not recognised despite the adoption of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in 2007.
INDIGENOUS PEOPLES HAVE VALID AND TESTED CONTRIBUTIONS TO MAKE TO SUSTAINABILITY
The Analysis says that the territorial management practices of Indigenous Peoples are attuned to the ecosystems in which they live. They are able to successfully preserve biodiversity and create sophisticated food systems that generate food for communities for generations. The Study says that scientists across the world have started to acknowledge this whilst policymakers are yet to translate this into effective policy measures.
However, the report analyses the fact that the food system of Indigenous Peoples are undergoing profound changes at an unprecedented pace. Both internal and external drivers motivated all these. The report also warns that some of the Indigenous Peoples are even restoring to unsustainable practices. It says that the threats to indigenous territories from outside actors drastically reduced indigenous lands, which increased the vulnerability of ancestral and orally transmitted knowledge that persisted until recently.
INDIGENOUS PEOPLES HOLD IMMENSE KNOWLEDGE ABOUT WILD AND SEMI-DOMESTICATED PLANTS.
The vast knowledge of these people on a huge diversity of wild, domesticated and semi-domesticated species of plants used for food and medicine in their diets and health systems is the best known to humankind. The pharmaceutical companies have some exploited the knowledge. In some cases, they have collaborative agreements with Indigenous Peoples, and developed new medicines that are sold over the counter throughout the world.
The report states that the respect, or lack thereof, of Indigenous Peoples’ intellectual property rights over their knowledge of plants has been one of the major constraints for them to share their knowledge about sustainability to the world. The reports says that the international community should address Indigenous Peoples’ rights. “If not, important segments of knowledge and understanding of how nature and biodiversity works, accumulated over generations of observation of the natural cycles and interactions in the ecosystems, will be lost with the passing of the elders and the migration of youth to urban centres,” the report said.
NOMADISM, MOBILE LIVELIHOODS AND SHIFTING PRACTICES TO MAINTAIN BIODIVERSITY
In the report, the authors mention that new drivers related to globalisation, climate change, markets, extractive pressures over the natural resources, migration and monetisation are either impairing, limiting or forbidding mobile and nomadic practices. The report points out that their territorial management practices are not understood by non-indigenous scientists. Practices like shifting cultivation have been criticized for years as responsible for deforestation. More research is needed about the cycles of shifting cultivation.
FOOD SYSTEMS ARE DYNAMIC IN TIME AND SUBJECT TO CHANGES BUT CHANGING
Earlier, the dynamism of their territorial management techniques helped them to adjust to changing migratory patterns and climate variations. However, the present situation and pressures are placing Indigenous Peoples in difficult conditions to counteract, the analysis said. Extractive industries, youth’s changing habits and tastes, commercial agriculture schemes and climate change have all led to the changes. Apart from this, monetisation of the economy and growing interest in selling foods and handicrafts to acquire cash are changing habits and tastes.
ADOPTION OF MARKET ORIENTED ACTIVITIES FOR CASH
The report points out that ongoing globalisation and improved access to markets have a direct impact on the socio-economy of the indigenous communities. It says that the positive as well as the negative impacts of the changes affect the social fabric, environment and the transmission of traditional knowledge. Earlier, they got the capital in the form of natural resources that, when properly managed, generated foods, medicines and by-products. Now, the accumulation of capital has moved away from the ecosystem and into private hands, enabling cash generation to purchase externally manufactured goods. “This shift towards the extraction of resources from the system affects the future sustainability of some of the Indigenous Peoples’ food systems,” the report said.
INDIGENOUS PEOPLES’ FOOD SYSTEMS RISK DISAPPEARANCE
New markets, climate change, encroachment of indigenous territories and ancestral land are transforming Indigenous Peoples’ food systems at the fastest rate, the report notes. These are leading to irreversible effects on the continuity and sustainability of the Indigenous Peoples’ food systems
The report states that the Indigenous youth are undergoing major changes. The Indigenous youth want to access education and pursue a professional life. The report also notes that the food systems and associated territorial management practices threaten to disappear if the youth do not continue some of the traditional practices in their communities. The report calls for new formulas to allow indigenous youth to participate in both the globalized world and the local community.
FREE, PRIOR AND INFORMED CONSENT
Free, Prior and Informed Constent is a right that Indigenous Peoples have in the UNDRIP. It helps to ensure the success and performance of different governmental development and social protection programmes aimed at improving the well-being of Indigenous Peoples. “From agricultural support programmes to education, all interventions benefit when there is consultation and consent by Indigenous Peoples,” the report says.