Indigenous peoples

Indigenous leaders, FAO and Governments discussed indigenous territories main challenges in the face of COVID-19


04/05/2020 - 

“Ignoring indigenous peoples in this situation would be the worst mistake we can make.” Máximo Torero Cullen, Chief Economist and ADG of the Economic and Social Development Department at FAO

The webinar on Indigenous Peoples and COVID-19 hosted by FAO brought together a panel of distinguished experts and almost 300 participants including FAO Member Country representatives, indigenous organizations, institutions and universities.

The COVID-19 pandemic has drastically affected the world. The health crisis coupled by the socioeconomic effects derived from the confinement affecting, mobility, livelihoods, income generation, and access to food is having serious effects on indigenous peoples across the world.

On Wednesday, 29 April 2020, the FAO Indigenous Peoples Unit hosted a Webinar on COVID-19 to facilitate a dialogue with key representatives on issues Indigenous Peoples are facing during this pandemic.

The Canadian, Ambassador H.E. Alexandra Bugailiskis, opened the webinar by stressing the importance of the newly established Friends of Indigenous Peoples Group in Rome, which gathers countries on a voluntary basis to discuss important issues with indigenous peoples. Bugailiskis continued by describing some of the COVID-19 relief initiatives taken by Canada for indigenous peoples such as the strengthening of health services and mental health support, and the speific funds dedicate to indigenous peoples relief.

Máximo Torero Cullen, FAO’s Chief Economist reiterated FAO’s commitment to support countries and indigenous organizations to mitigate the health and socio-economic effects of this crisis. He added, that having disaggregated data is extremely important, he called on WHO, PAHO and the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues to work together on collection and creation of  a common reporting method in indigenous peoples´ communities. He also stated the importance of the launch of two FAO led initiatives, The Global Hub for Indigenous Food Systems and the Global Indigenous Youth Forum, in the context of COVID-19.

FILAC´s President and representative of indigenous peoples in Latin-America, Dr. Myrna Cunningham stressed the graveness of the COVID-1 pandemic, saying that “If the virus does not kill us, hunger will do it”.  She went on the explain how FILAC and Foro Abya Yala joined forces in in response to the effect of the pandemic by creating a platform that gathers data and provides information to indigenous peoples.

As facilitator, Yon Fernández de Larrinoa, Head of FAO Indigenous Peoples Unit, pointed out the link between the lack of formal recognition of indigenous peoples, the lack of disaggregated data and the food security status of indigenous peoples.

Anne Nuorgam, Chair of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues presented the measures taken by different communities to confront this crisis. She continued by saying that both voluntary isolation and sealing of territories have been effective in halting the spread of the virus, although they have led to several other side-effects such as food shortages and domestic violence.

“Indigenous peoples are not passive in the face of COVID-19,” stressed Brian Keane, Ex-Rapporteur of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Peoples and President of Land is Life Organization. He also mentioned the importance of securing the territorial rights of indigenous peoples especially in light of the pandemic as their key adaptation skills and resilience play a very important role in the prevention of future pandemics.

Representing Asian Indigenous Youth, Mai Thin Yumon highlighted the leading role that indigenous youth is playing during the pandemic, participating in the COVID-19 response-committees, distributing food and health supplies, and translating contention information into indigenous languages.

Marcela Villarreal, FAO Partnerships´ Director , closed the discussion emphasizing thae fact that the socio-economic situation is just as urgent as the health crisis, underlinging that all interventions and actions must follow the process of Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC), with UN agencies and Governments respecting indigenous peoples’ food sovereignty, land rights and acknowledging the importance of the unique biodiversity preserved in indigenous territories.

This online webinar is a part of an effort taken by FAO in order to increase the visibility of indigneous peoples during the COVID-19, this is a part of a series of activities that the FAO indigenous Peoples Unit  have been taking, among  those is the launch of a webpage dedicated to indigenous peoples and COVID-19: challenges and actions, as well as a statement with recommendations for Governments to mitigate the effects of COVID-19 on indigenous peoples.

The webinar is available here.

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