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Indigenous peoples “key partners” in fight against hunger and malnutrition, says FAO at UN headquarters

21/10/2013 - 

“With their wealth of ancestral knowledge”, indigenous and tribal peoples make for “key partners in the fight against hunger, malnutrition, and food insecurity”, remarked FAO’s Sharon Brennen-Haylock, as the General Assembly’s Social, Humanitarian, and Cultural Affairs (“3rd”) Committee opened discussions in New York on the rights of indigenous peoples.

The pursuit of traditional hunting and pastoral lifestyles, noted FAO’s Liaison Director to the United Nations, helps “maintain high levels of biological diversity, including invaluable genetic resources for food and agriculture”. Such practices and know-how, she continued, “create an important pillar of the food security of present and future generations worldwide”.

Of the world’s 900m rural poor, some 370m are thought to be indigenous. FAO, explained Ms. Brennen-Haylock, spearheads numerous initiatives designed to both assist and harness the capabilities of indigenous groups: among others, the new Corporate Strategy for Partnerships with Civil Society Organizations, the Policy on Indigenous and Tribal Peoples, and the Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Fisheries, and Forests, adopted last year.

In 2007, the General Assembly passed the landmark Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Yet the declaration’s promise, argued UN Special Rapporteur James Anaya on Monday before the Committee, has not matched expectations, undermined in part by “repeated assertions” from various signatories that the document is not legally binding, but rather “merely aspirational”.

Indeed “addressing the wide gap between the declaration and the reality of its application on the ground”, agreed Ioannis Vrailas, Deputy Head of the European Union delegation, merits greater attention in the post-2015 development framework. Fortunately, the upcoming 2014 International Year of Family Farming — to be formally launched November 22 at UN headquarters — will help refocus the spotlight on indigenous groups, added FAO’s Ms. Brennen-Haylock. 

The 3rd Committee, which serves as a central UN forum for debate and negotiation on a wide-range of social issues, is scheduled to run October 7 through November 27.