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Source: World Resources Institute, 2011, modified by Masaaki Hirai and the Baka of Dimgba, 2018. Image via UN report "Indigenous Peoples’ food systems."

Agriculture

UN Study Analyzing Indigenous Tribes Shares 9 Key Insights To Consider For More Sustainable Food Production Practices

This is a follow-up to another article I just wrote, UN Report: Indigenous Lands Protecting Biodiversity Are Being Threatened By Incursions.” That article detailed how climate change and incursions were threatening Indigenous Lands. Line 3 is a great example of this. However, I wanted to provide more detail on the 9 key insights that I ended the previous article with.

In the study, the authors explained that as all of humankind endures the effects of climate change as a result of unsustainable food production practices, we can learn from Indigenous Peoples’ food systems. Indigenous Peoples’ food systems are the most sustainable and there are 9 key insights to consider as we identify obstacles that need to be addressed.

1. The recognition of Indigenous Peoples within the countries they inhabit is important and enables them access to basic public services.

Indigenous Peoples and their food systems have existed for millennia. The creation of today’s modern states and other governments worldwide have not only ignored the contributions of the Indigenous Peoples but in some cases often infringe upon their basic human rights, break treaties, and take them for granted.

The study looked at 11 Indigenous Peoples in 8 profiles and noted that 10 out of 11 live in countries where they are explicitly recognized in the Constitution but that legal recognization doesn’t solve the need for interculturality in public services. Nor does it provide effective social protection measures.

Many of the communities that were analyzed are not satisfied with development programs, agriculture plans, school meals, and education — and they also didn’t participate in the design and the scope of these plans.

2. Indigenous Peoples have valid and tested contributions to make to sustainability.

Examples of these include energy use, territorial management, waste included as inputs in the system, fallow practices, and ecological management that is associated with culture and tradition. The latter enables them to replenish their natural resource base.

The report noted that the territorial management practices of Indigenous Peoples are in tune with their ecosystems. They’ve also been able to preserve biodiversity while creating sophisticated food systems which provide food for their communities – -for generations.

Scientists are beginning to realize and point this out yet policymakers are blind and haven’t really created effective policy measures that protect Indigenous Peoples’ practices. There are lessons on sustainability from Indigenous Peoples that can help solve the problems that other communities are working on.

With all of this going on in the background, Indigenous People’s food systems have been going through some major changes during the last 50 years. Some of their ancestral practices are being transformed at unprecedented speeds which rapidly alter their food systems. Remember, these are food systems that have been in place for thousands of years.

Threats to Indigenous territories from outside sources such as pipelines, colonization, etc., have drastically reduced Indigenous lands. And yes, colonization is still happening even today. I saw a post on TikTok by someone in Hawaii (I’m not sure if she’s Indigenous) who pointed out that Hawaiians and Indigenous Hawaiians are literally being priced out of their homes. Her home was worth $25,000 when her family first got it over 50 years ago. Today it’s in the millions. Many Indigenous and native Hawaiians are being forced out of their homeland because it’s simply too expensive to live there. Gentrification is a form of colonization.

Back in January, Civil Beat reported on this. If you want to learn more about that crisis in Hawaii, you can read that here.

3. Indigenous Peoples hold immense knowledge about wild and semi-domesticated plants.

This is something that is obvious but perhaps widely overlooked. Indigenous Peoples hold a vast knowledge of plant medicine. In a few cases, some pharmaceutical companies have collaborated with Indigenous Peoples to create new medicines for various ailments today. Oh the flip side, however, Indigenous People have called out and denounce the piracy of their knowledge and lack of respect of their intellectual rights over their knowledge of plants. In fact, this lack of respect has been a key reason why some Indigenous Peoples don’t want to share their knowledge about sustainability with non-Indigenous scientists.

I follow several Indigenous People on TikTok, who speak out and educate about cultural appropriation and the mindset of colonization and how many still have the mental frameworks of colonization. For example, the idea of mocking an Indigenous group for using a certain plant for something, then taking that same plant and using it for the same purpose while claiming it was your idea.

The UN report stated that the international community needs to address this issue and guarantee Indigenous Peoples’ rights. If we don’t, important pieces of knowledge and understanding of how nature and biodiversity works along with the generations of accumulated knowledge could be lost.

4. The importance of nomadism, mobile livelihoods, and shifting practices to maintain biodiversity.

The UN noted in its report that the nomadic habits and mobile livelihoods of Indigenous Peoples are not often understood by policymakers. The lifestyles of Indigenous Peoples have often been criticized for years as the cause of deforestation. However, if this was true, we would have run out of forest many, many thousands of years ago.

The report emphasized that more research is needed about the cycles of shifting cultivation and that evidence suggested that in almost all communities, reducing the time to complete cycles caused by external actors’ pressures and increase demography has negatively impacted sustainability.

Globalization, monetization, markets, migration, climate change, and other pressures over natural resources are impairing, limiting, or forbidding mobile and nomadic practices. For some, the mobile livelihoods will be irreversibly lost, which will have an effect on Indigenous Peoples’ food systems and sustainability.

5. Indigenous Peoples’ food systems are dynamic in time and subject to changes but today they are changing at an unprecedented speed.

The report noted that the rapid monetization of barter-subsistence traditional economies is changing preferences and habits. It also changes livelihood efforts — shifting them towards market-oriented activities. That along with the changes as a result of the monetization of the economy and interest in selling foods, art, and more in markets for cash are bringing about rapid changes. This is also reshaping the Indigenous People’s food systems from within.

“This is having an impact on many of the ancestral collective forms of reciprocity and circular solidarity that have constituted their safety nets for centuries.”

6. The acceleration in the adoption of market-oriented activities for cash is profoundly transforming Indigenous Peoples’ food systems.

One negative driver to maintain food system sustainability is changing a basic principle of Indigenous People’s food systems. The accumulation of capital has moved away from the ecosystem and into private hands, which enables cash generation to buy externally manufactured goods. Previously, the system made money in the environment in the form of natural resources that, when properly managed, would generate foods, medicines, and other necessities.

This new shift affects the future sustainability of some of the Indigenous Peoples ‘ food systems that the report analyzed. Community members are already seeing new extraction rates that cater to the market while going beyond the threshold limit that allows for regeneration, the report noted.

7. Indigenous Peoples’ food systems risk disappearance.

Today, Indigenous Peoples are facing the risk of having their food systems disappear or become fully assimilated by the dominant cultures that are mainstreamed in the globalization process. Markets, climate change effects, and the encroachment of Indigenous territories and ancestral lands are most likely the factors that are transforming Indigenous Peoples’ food systems at the fastest rate.

How will the transmission of knowledge be maintained and how can we ensure the continuation of some of the practices that support the territorial management and food systems?

8. The future of Indigenous Peoples’ food systems depends largely on the decisions indigenous youth are making.

The report shared a challenge — a divide — that today’s Indigenous youth are facing. One option is to gain access to education and pursue a professional life that would allow them to participate in an urbanized and globalized economy. The other is that if they don’t continue some of the traditional practices in their communities, the food systems and associated territorial management practices could disappear forever.

The report is calling for new formulas to allow the Indigenous youth to be able to do both without the fear of losing their food systems. This requires governments to develop educational programs with interculturality — blending traditional knowledge with new technologies.

9. Free, Prior, and Informed Consent (FPIC) is more than a principle – it brings success.

The report noted that FPIC isn’t just a right that Indigenous Peoples have under the UNDRIP, but that it’s essential to ensure the success and performance of the various governmental development and social protection programs that focus on improving their wellbeing.

These programs include agricultural support and education.

“All interventions benefit when there is consultation and consent by Indigenous Peoples.”

 
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Written By

Johnna Crider is a Louisiana native who likes crawfish, gems, minerals, EVs, and advocates for sustainability. Johnna is also the host of GettingStoned.online, a jewelry artisan and a $TSLA shareholder.

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