A report conducted by the United Nations (UN) found that Indigenous Peoples’ food systems are the most sustainable, and also explored how climate change is affecting them. Incursions into Indigenous lands are threatening tribal food systems and our planet’s well-being, Inside Climate News reported.
Indigenous people have been sustainably using and caring for our lands for thousands of years, but the report from the UN has a warning. This balance is being challenged by both climate change and illegal incursions into Indigenous lands. The threat is that not only will the world risk losing the tribes, but also their protection of biodiversity. Indigenous people are key allies in the fight for humanity’s survival on this planet.
Yon Fernandez de Larrinoa, Chief of the Indigenous Peoples Unit at the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, touched upon how resilient the Indigenous food systems are. “The Indigenous food systems that have proved themselves to be resilient for hundreds of years are facing pressures. One is climate change, which is reducing wild plants, water, and biodiversity,” said Fernandez de Larrinoa.“The other is anthropocentric pressure from agriculture and mining.”
There are 476 million members of Indigenous groups worldwide and they occupy over a third of Earth’s protected land, preserving 80% of the world’s remaining biodiversity. Think about that for a moment. Most of the remaining biodiversity of this planet is protected by Indigenous lands and people.
Resources and the lands Indigenous people rely on for food are still being taken from them for agriculture, mining, or other resource extractions. A prime example of this is the Line 3 Pipeline here in the U.S. The presence of this pipeline is a violation of treaties with the Anishinaabe People and the pipeline will pose a threat to their food supply as well as the water supply. Line 3 is planned to cross over 200 waterways including the Mississippi River where millions, even me, source our drinking water from.
What’s more, is that Indigenous people are being forced from their homes by these illegal incursions. “They’re being forced from their homelands,” said Fernandez de Larrinoa. “What we’re seeing is these territories that used to be much larger, where they had replenishment capacity, are becoming smaller and smaller.”
The researchers of the UN Study analyzed the food systems of 8 Indigenous groups across Africa, Asia, the Arctic, and Latin America and found that these groups were able to meet most of their food needs without depleting resources. The groups were also able to provide other materials for buildings, tools, and medicines. The authors found that their food systems are among the most sustainable in the world.
“We cannot destroy biodiversity and ecosystems and feed ourselves,” Fernandez de Larrinoa said. “Sooner or later we’re going to have more effects from climate change and pandemics.
“Most food systems in the world are very good at producing food, but not conserving biodiversity. Humankind can’t keep expanding the agricultural frontier in the Amazon or the Sahel.”
The Sahel is a semi-arid region that stretches across Africa below the Sahara Desert. The researchers wanted to learn how they could educate the rest of the world on the resilience and self-sufficiency of Indigenous food systems. They discovered that Indigenous people don’t waste food and don’t use that much external energy. They also adhere to seasonal patterns of plant growth and animal migration. This combined puts less pressure on the ecosystem around them.
Climate Change Is An Ongoing Struggle For Indigenous Peoples
Anne Nuorgam, chair of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, wrote the introduction to the report. She pointed out that climate change has been an ongoing struggle for Indigenous Peoples.
“It is not a challenge that we are awaiting the consequences of, but one we are currently facing and have been facing every day. I come from a Sámi people fishing community in northern Finland. We are experiencing first hand the effects of climate change on Indigenous Peoples. Global warming is melting the ice and fish resources are diminishing, which is affecting our food system and, as a result, compromising our livelihoods. Finding solutions to climate change is not just a priority, it is an emergency.”
She added, further down in her forward:
“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.
“Although Indigenous Peoples and their ecological based food systems have adapted and survived for centuries, pressures from extractive industries, intensive agricultural schemes, lack of access to natural resources, increasing environmental degradation, and drastic changes in climatic conditions are posing major threats to our livelihoods. Our food systems are not only relevant to us but to the global community as well.
“This is why the global community must listen and join forces with Indigenous Peoples and advocate for the preservation and safeguarding of Indigenous Peoples’ food systems before it is too late and the knowledge we hold, accumulated over hundreds of years, is gone forever.”
What’s At Stake?
The report detailed that the report emphasized that everyone will have to endure the effects of climate change and address the challenges that all humankind will face as a result of unsustainable food production practices. However, Indigenous Peoples’ food systems are one of the best placed to provide insights, lessons, and empirical evidence that could help us collectively move towards more sustainable food systems. The report shared 9 salient insights as it identified obstacles that needed to be taken into consideration:
- The recognition of Indigenous Peoples within the countries they inhabit is important and enables them access to basic public services.
- Indigenous Peoples have valid and tested contributions to make to sustainability.
- Indigenous Peoples hold immense knowledge about wild and semi-domesticated plants.
- The importance of nomadism, mobile livelihoods, and shifting practices to maintain biodiversity.
- Indigenous Peoples’ food systems are dynamic in time and subject to changes but today they are changing at an unprecedented speed.
- The acceleration in the adoption of market-oriented activities for cash is profoundly transforming Indigenous Peoples’ food systems.
- Indigenous Peoples’ food systems risk disappearance.
- . The future of Indigenous Peoples’ food systems depends largely on the decisions indigenous youth are making.
- Free, Prior, and Informed Consent (FPIC) is more than a principle – it brings success.
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