36 An intergenerational knowledge exchange: indigenous forest management and food security in the context of climate change

Indigenous youth and elders present mechanisms for sustainable forestry and climate change adaptation


  • Government of Norway
  • Government of Panama
  • UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII) (Invited to join as Organizer)
  • Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO)
  • Global Indigenous Youth Caucus (GIYC)
  • Fund for the Development of Indigenous Peoples of Latin America and the Caribbean (FILAC)
  • International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs (IWGIA)
  • United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) - UNREDD


Today’s maps of forests and biodiversity hotspots coincide in many cases with indigenous peoples’ territories.

Over centuries, indigenous peoples have devised ingenious ways of managing forests without depleting natural resources. Such knowledge has been traditionally passed on from one generation to another.
Knowledge mechanisms are at the core of resilience building. Investing on and learning from indigenous practices contributes to mitigating the impact of climate change and improving forest management and food practices, particularly among youth. For example, leveraging knowledge on traditional food systems and the use of forests foods can contribute to healthy and resilient diets.

However, traditional knowledge is disappearing at an alarming rate with the migration of the youth and the passing of the elders. Loss of traditional knowledge has garnered global attention in the debate on climate adaptation and mitigation practices.

The event will feature experiences of how indigenous elders and youth utilise and share knowledge, combining modern technologies with tradition to ensure the preservation and management of forests and food practices.
The presentations will include conservation of Sacred Sites in Borneo, of indigenous forest monitoring combining drones with traditional practices in Panama, and of local adaptive strategies in response to shocks and environmental changes.

Key speakers/presenters

  • Yon Fernández-de-Larrinoa, Indigenous Peoples Team Leader (FAO)
  • Mariam Wallet Aboubakrine, Chair, UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII)
  • Inge Nordang, Ambassador and Permanent Representative to the UN Organizations in Rome, Embassy of Norway
  • Marcial Arias Medina, Analyst, Ministry of Environment, Panama
  • Sergio Ortiz, indigenous youth, Alianza Mesoamericana de Pueblos y Bosques (AMPB)
  • Lola Garcia-Alix, Team Coordinator and Senior Advisor Global Governance, International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs (IWGIA)
  • Q”apaj Conde, Co-Chair, Global Indigenous Youth Caucus (GIYC)
  • Edmond Dounias, Representative Indonesia and Timor Leste, French National Research Institute for Sustainable Development (IRD)
  • Jeff Campbell, Manager, Forests and Farm Facility (FAO)


About 200 million indigenous peoples depend on forests for their livelihoods. Over centuries, They have accumulated traditional knowledge based on ingenious ways of managing forests to extract shelter, medicines and food without depleting the natural resources base.
This traditional knowledge can bring answers to today’s challenges. Yet migration, inappropriate education systems and loss of languages are affecting its preservation and intergenerational-transmission.
Technology and the targeted Government policies offer hope for preserving this knowledge.

Traditional indigenous knowledge is passed orally from one generation to another. From early childhood, customs and laws regulate its learning and practice by Indigenous youth.
Elders are responsible for intergenerational transmission of knowledge (vertical). Intra-generational transmission among children (horizontal) is also fundamental. Both are seldom compatible with present formal education systems.

There is a high risk of losing traditional knowledge linked to the increased rate of youth’s migration fueled by lack of education, jobs, and loss of land. This generates marginalization and isolation, often connected to self-harm and suicide among indigenous youth.

At the same time, it is important to preserve knowledge from potential misuses. Indigenous youth have a duty to protect it from third parties willing to use it without consent.

The preservation of local languages and culture is directly linked to maintaining knowledge.

Technology is an opportunity to transmit knowledge and traditional practices, allowing “traditional innovation”, as a collective process, e.g. in Guatemala and Panama new technology (drones) complements elders’ knowledge to monitor and preserve forests.

Governments and indigenous peoples together can play a critical role in shaping policies that respect traditional knowledge. UN Agencies, Academia, Civil Society and private sector also play important roles.
Long-term financial and technical support to indigenous youth are necessary to include them in decision-making processes.

FAO plans to establish a Forum with indigenous youth to ensure that their views are included in decision making related to food security, nutrition and climate change.  

Key outcomes/take away messages

  1. Indigenous peoples need “re-empowerment” rather than empowerment, to articulate their issues and to better advocate.
  2. The continuation of “experimental learning” through interaction among indigenous communities is fundamental.
  3. Education systems need to be inclusive and responsive to the needs of all peoples.
  4. Governments can shape policies and harmonize legislations with traditional knowledge.
  5. Indigenous knowledge needs protection. There are various ways to do so and ensure economic benefits (e.g. patents, geographical indications).
  6. Technology is an opportunity to transmit knowledge, provided that indigenous peoples keep control of the different tools.
  7. Need to increase indigenous youth’s engagement in the indigenous peoples’ knowledge sharing platform to be established under the UNFCCC and within the Green Climate Fund.
  8. Capacity building and re-empowerment need strengthening, and platforms like the Indigenous Youth Consultative Forum being established in FAO will be key.
Side Event -36 -  An intergenerational knowledge exchange: indigenous forest management and food security in the context of climate change