SE123 Naming food: The intrinsic relation between indigenous food systems, traditional knowledge and language diversity

Organizers

  • FAO
  • Indonesia
  • UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII)
  • Asia Indigenous Peoples Pact (AIPP)
  • United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC)

Over centuries, indigenous peoples have devised ingenious and dynamic ways of managing their constantly evolving territories without depleting the natural resource base. Such knowledge has been traditionally passed on from one generation to another and through a plurality and richness of languages, indigenous peoples have shown their ability to perceive sensible variations of their local ecosystems, to maintain or event restore their food generation potentialities, and adopt climate resilient behaviors.

Today there are more than 370 million indigenous peoples, speaking more than 4000 languages and living in 90 countries across the world. Despite being 5% of the population, indigenous peoples represent 15% of the poor. While their ancestral territories encompass only 22% of the land’s surface, they host 80% of the planet’s biological diversity, making indigenous peoples the custodians of ecosystems, and natural resources. Along with biological diversity, the cultural diversity of indigenous peoples is consubstantial of overall biodiversity.

However, nowadays indigenous peoples are in the frontline of the worst impacts of climate change as they live in climate change exposed ecosystems such as the artic, low-lying islands, tropical forests or high mountains. Ongoing pressures of various sources that impede their homelands conditions of living are much more abrupt and rapid than past changes and the capacity of Indigenous knowledge to adapt is challenged.

In 2018, in collaboration with indigenous and international organizations, FAO organized the High-Level Expert Seminar on Indigenous Food Systems. The event gathered 23 countries and 200 participants, out of which 22 indigenous communities and 20 research centers; and it recalled on the need to reinforce the sustainability of indigenous peoples’ food systems in the context of climate change, with traditional knowledge, supported and transmitted by indigenous languages, as playing a critical role.

The High Level Expert Seminar showcased in a systemic way the intimate relationships between language, knowledge, traditional practices, territorial management, ecosystems and indigenous food systems.

This side-event will provide an opportunity for dialogue and reflection for indigenous representatives, UN Agencies, Country Representatives, Academic Institutions, Civil Society Organizations and other interested actors on the relevance of preserving and ensuring the transmission of indigenous languages, traditional knowledge and indigenous food systems, particularly in the context of climate change.

Key speakers/presenters

  • Agung Hendriadi, Head of Food Security Agency, Ministry of Agriculture of Indonesia
  • Roberto Ridolfi, Assistant Director-General, Programme Support and Technical Cooperation Department
  • Gam Shimray, Secretary General, Asia Indigenous Peoples Act (AIPP)
  • Lola Garcia Alix, Senior Adviser, International Work Group on Indigenous Affairs (IWGIA)
  • Jonathan Loh, Honorary Research Fellow, School of Anthropology and Conservation, University of Kent
  • Mattia Prayer-Galleti, Lead Technical Specialist, Indigenous Peoples and Tribal Issues, IFAD
  • Nuria Sanz, FAO Climate, Biodiversity, Land and Water Department, FAO
  • Rene Castro, Assistant Director-General, Climate, Biodiversity, Land and Water Department, FAO
  • Facilitator: Yon Fernandez de Larrinoa, FAO Indigenous Peoples Team leader

Main themes/issues discussed

During the Side Event the discussion focused on some main topics:

Indigenous food systems have resilient and sustainable elements that could contribute to sustainable food systems.

Indigenous Food Systems are linked to ancestral knowledge, indigenous languages, spirituality, land and territories.

It is important to include indigenous peoples’ knowledge and indigenous food systems perspective in the CFS’ Voluntary Guidelines for Sustainable Food Systems and Nutrition to be endorsed in 2020.

In 2020, FAO will launch the Global Hub on Indigenous Food Systems, as a center of knowledge to influence the global debate on food systems, sustainability and climate change.

How to integrate indigenous practices into the agriculture systems, in order to ensure sustainability.

The urge to protect and enhance the usage of indigenous traditional way to name food and their deep knowledge of wild crops and agriculture practices.

Summary of key points

 

Agung Hendriadi, Head of Food Security Agency, Ministry of Agriculture of Indonesia.  His Excellency stressed the importance to strengthen the connection between land use and Earth protection. He highlighted the need to consider the customary local communities and their rights. Example given of the protection of land rights (Hutan adat) recognized by the Government of Indonesia. Traditional knowledge needs to be preserved and thought together with modern technologies in order to tackle climate change and eradicate hunger.

Roberto Ridolfi, Assistant Director-General, Programme Support and Technical Cooperation Department.  The biocentric restoration approach of FAO and indigenous peoples looks to restore degraded lands in indigenous territories based on their indigenous food systems and cosmogony. Indigenous knowledge must be recognized at the same level of scientific knowledge, with the same dignity and importance.  
To end hunger and reach Goal 2 of the SDGs we need good investments and a qualified combination of traditional knowledge and new technologies.

Gam Shimray, Secretary General, Asia Indigenous Peoples Act (AIPP)
For indigenous peoples, spirituality is the link between land, food systems and identity.  I.E Karen youths are encouraged to go with their parents to learn the spiritual connection and sustainable management of their land and forest, such as tying of umbilical cords of new born babies to trees for forest protection.  Indigenous peoples’ ancestral knowledge is the accumulation of knowledge of the environment based on observation and experiences and shared from generation to generation.   Indigenous languages are important to strengthen the transmission of this knowledge to the next generations. Languages are learnt in the field and in relation to the land. E.g.: poetry for shifting cultivation.  There is a strong relation between indigenous peoples, animals and ecosystems. I.E, the Karen people do not allow to kill or eat gibbons and hornbills, because they knew they are key indicators of a healthy forest.

Lola Garcia Alix, Senior Adviser, International Work Group on Indigenous Affairs (IWGIA).  Food security is intrinsically linked to land rights when it comes to indigenous peoples.  There is an urgent need to protect the rights of indigenous peoples.  IWGIA and FAO have joined efforts to develop a global study on indigenous peoples and food security that will be launched in 2020.  The global rush for land, natural resources and natural disasters phenomena are all linked to food security and malnutrition.  The loss of traditional knowledge in Indigenous communities is one of the drivers of malnutrition.
The international community need to speed up the process to create policies, making sure that Indigenous peoples directly participate in this policy making process.

Johnatan Loh, Honorary Research Fellow, School of Anthropology and Conservation, University of Kent.  Ants and humans are around the world, Ants are genetically diverse while humans are culturally diverse, and this is how they succeeded to adapt to live in all kind of ecosystems in the world, how to survive and find food. Humans have been able to adapt to different ecosystems thousand times faster than other species thanks to culture.  The culture surrounded food deals with ecological knowledge. It is passed through languages.
The index of linguistic diversity reports that during the last period a decline of 40% has been registered, above all in the Americas and Indonesia.  If we lose language, we also lose ecological and traditional knowledge linked to the ways to cultivate or eat certain typologies of crops or plants.  This knowledge that can be very important in the future and in the achievement of the SDG.

Mattia Prayer Galleti, Lead Technical Specialist, Indigenous Peoples and Tribal Issues, IFAD.  IFAD is operating in different regions to protect Indigenous traditional knowledge through IPAF (Indigenous Peoples Assistance Facility) while ensuring the right to food and strengthen the nutritional aspects. Particular emphasis was given on the outputs of the Indigenous Peoples’ Forum which provide recommendations for the activities of the IPAF.  Indigenous Peoples need to be recognized as rights and knowledge holders
Indigenous peoples face a nutritional transition where there is a higher dependency on processed and imported food.  IFAD continues its work in protecting the traditional knowledge so that is ensure health, food and nutrition in a holistic manner.

Nuria Sanz, FAO Climate, Biodiversity, Land and Water Department, FAO.  Linguistic, biological and genetic diversities are all linked to each other and represent the most valuable evolutionary heritage. Programmed and practices at UN specialized agencies should provide with a suitable frame to integrate this triple prospective to ensure a proper cross-fertilization between diversities. For us, as humans, food procurement put into practice our innate capacity to name the environment. Linguistic diversity is an indispensable source of biodiversity knowledge.  4800 indigenous languages over the 7000 spoken worldwide are located in hotspot of biodiversity. 3500 indigenous languages are unique to each biodiversity region
New technologies cannot replace, improvise or encapsulate the long-term accumulation of indigenous knowledge. Diversity should be addressed as a capital for food security. For so doing, languages are drivers of diversities.

René Castro, Assistant Director-General, Climate, Biodiversity, Land and Water Department, FAO.  There is a strong correlation between rich biodiversity regions with indigenous communities and food systems. If we overlap the linguistic maps, the indigenous peoples territories maps and the map with pockets of biodiversity, there is a strong coincidence. When indigenous peoples are displaced from their ancestral lands and new farmers or settlers come in, immediately there is a decline in biodiversity. it comes with new agricultural and livestock practices that’s substitute the previous indigenous food systems in that very same territory.  There cannot be healthy indigenous food systems if the transmission of traditional knowledge is interrupted or if the language is lost, which irremediably ends with a deterioration or even disappearance of the culture.

Key take away messages

The key take-home messages are:

  • Indigenous Knowledge, food system and linguistic diversity are intrinsically linked to indigenous territories and customary land tenure systems.
  • Indigenous knowledge must be recognized at the same level of scientific knowledge, with the same dignity and importance.  
  • The Global Hub on Indigenous Food Systems, the informal Group of Friends of Indigenous Peoples in Rome initiated by Canada and the forthcoming World Food Summit are opportunities to bring the topic of indigenous food systems and discuss further the biocentric restoration approach to restore food systems.
  • The CFS Voluntary Guidelines for Sustainable Food Systems and Nutrition should include indigenous peoples’ food systems perspective.
  • It is urgent to protect, support and value indigenous languages indigenous peoples’ traditional occupations, livelihoods and food systems, in order to ensure food security and to preserve the ecological knowledge accumulated over thousands of years.
  • To end hunger and reach Goal 2 of the SDGs, good investments are needed, together with a qualified combination of traditional knowledge and new technologies.
  • It is critical to ensure access to land and resources to indigenous peoples through the recognition of their rights and implementation of FPIC.
  • The contribution of indigenous people in important Fora at global level requests more support from countries.

 

 

CFS 46 Side Event  SE123 Naming food -  The intrinsic relation between indigenous food systems, traditional knowledge and language diversity

 

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