Cultural indicators for indigenous food and agro-ecological systems
Indigenous Peoples worldwide are urgently calling for recognition of the vital and fundamental importance of culture for the viability of their traditional food and agro-ecological systems, as well as for sustainable development. Culture should be considered a fourth pillar of sustainable development, additional to the social, economic and environmental pillars. Culture encompasses the shared beliefs, values, traditions, customs, knowledge and ceremonies that people transmit across generations and use to define and sustain their collective identities and relationships with each other and the world. Traditional cultural practices and food systems are positively related and mutually supportive and both are fundamental for food security and well being.
However, development interventions, as well as global trends of expansion of industrialized agriculture, monocultures, and the market economy have negative and, in some cases, devastating impacts on the traditional food systems, subsistence-based economies and agro-ecological systems upon which Indigenous Peoples depend for survival. In this context, Indigenous Peoples’ and other organizations and bodies interested in supporting their livelihoods and well-being, recognized that cultural indicators can provide a valuable, practical basis for a common understanding of the role of culture in sustaining food and agro-ecological systems and thereby community health and well-being.
The way forward from the Declaration of Atitlán
Indigenous People emphasized the importance of Indigenous Culture for sustainable agriculture and food systems in the “Declaration of Atitlán” in 2002. Since then, FAO has been working with Indigenous People’s Organizations to identify Cultural Indicators for Sustainable Agriculture and Rural Development, a subject which was highlighted by the Indigenous Peoples’ Focal Point, the International Indian Treaty Council (IITC), as their top priority for the SARD Initiative.
FAO has supported Indigenous Peoples’ efforts to follow-up on this issue through a “Survey on Cultural Indicators of SARD in Indigenous People’s Traditional Foods and Cultures” in 2003 and a Technical Paper entitled “Cultural indicators of Indigenous Peoples' food and agro-ecological systems” in 2006. The Paper was reviewed by 30 representatives from Indigenous Peoples’ Organizations and Nations from Africa, Latin America, Asia, the Pacific, North America and Europe, as well as a number of UN agencies, during the 2nd Global Consultation on the Right to Food, Food Security and Food Sovereignty for Indigenous Peoples (7-9 September 2006, Puerto Cabezas, Nicaragua). This Consultation was coordinated and facilitated by IITC, the FAO/SARD Initiative and El Centro para la Autonomía y Desarrollo de los Pueblos Indígenas (CADPI). It focused on Cultural Indicators for Food Security, Food Sovereignty and Sustainable Development and resulted in refinements, prioritization and a consensus on the indicators proposed by the Paper, reducing the suggested 11 indicator categories into 5 indicator clusters. The areas covered in these clusters include i) access to lands, territories, natural resources, sacred sites and ceremonial areas, ii) abundance, scarcity and/or threats to traditional seeds, plant foods and medicines, food animals, and their associated production practices, iii) use and transmission of knowledge, methods, language, ceremonies dances, prayers, oral histories, related to traditional foods and agrofood systems, and the continued use of traditional foods in daily diet, iv) capacity for adaptability, resilience, and/or restoration of traditional food use and production, v) ability to exercise their rights of self-determination and free prior informed consent, and to defend their Food Sovereignty and own development. The Paper was also discussed during the Annual Meeting of the Inter-Agency Support Group on Indigenous Issues (Rome/Tivoli 15-17 September 2006), where it was emphasized that cultural indicators can play an important role for explaining the urgency and scope of indigenous peoples’ needs and for advocating to satisfy these needs.
The value of Cultural Indicators
The development of, and agreement on, a set of indicators, which are able to measure impacts, relationships and interactions between culture and food and agro-ecological systems, can promote improved understanding, transparency and accountability between Indigenous Peoples and those working to assist and support them. Specifically, they are helpful to:
Content and main objectives of the FAO Paper “Cultural indicators of Indigenous Peoples' food and agro-ecological systems”
The Technical Paper provides a literature review that elaborates on and validates Indigenous Peoples’ views about some of the most important cultural indicators of food security, food sovereignty, agro-ecological systems and sustainable development. It also reviews indicators currently in use or recently identified by other organizations to monitor these interactions, as well as areas, for which new indicators may be needed. The document attempts to present this literature in a concise and consolidated fashion in order to provide evidence about the relationship between indigenous culture and food and agro-ecological systems. A review of the research and scientific basis for the factors, interactions and trends that Indigenous Peoples recognize is provided in order to support the capacity of Indigenous Peoples themselves to convince others of the legitimacy of their views.
The importance of the connections between culture, wellbeing and sustainability is captured in a few quotes provided by Indigenous People’s representatives attending the 2nd Global Consultation on the Right to Food, Food Security and Food Sovereignty for Indigenous Peoples:
“Trees are our brothers and sisters. We are of the same genealogical branch. When you understand this, you can understand what deforestation means for our well being”
“To destroy the land is to destroy the people”