Bioversity international



Climate change has been an ongoing struggle for Indigenous Peoples. It is not a challenge that we are awaiting the consequences of, but one we are currently facing and have been facing every day. I come from a Sámi people fishing community in northern Finland. We are experiencing first hand the effects of climate change on Indigenous Peoples. Global warming is melting the ice and fish resources are diminishing, which is affecting our food system and, as a result, compromising our livelihoods. Finding solutions to climate change is not just a priority, it is an emergency.

Indigenous Peoples number 476 million persons worldwide, living in more than 90 countries and belonging to 5 000 different peoples and linguistic groups. We are amongst the most culturally diverse and traditionally unique societies on earth because of our rich history, culture, spirituality, unique ancestral links and tremendous traditional knowledge. Our ways of life, cultures and knowledge systems have been passed on for centuries.

Indigenous Peoples are amongst the longest living cultures in the world. Our land and territories are as diverse as our groups. Whilst some Indigenous Peoples live in the Amazon rainforest, others live in the Sahara Desert, and many others live in mountains, in the Arctic or on remote islands. Our territories encompass over a quarter of the world’s land surface, and intersect about 35 percent of all terrestrial protected areas and ecologically intact landscapes in the world (Garnett et al., 2018). We must assert and emphasize that indigenous territories preserve and sustain 80 percent of the world’s remaining biodiversity (Sobrevilla, 2008).

Researchers, academia and the international community have long investigated how and why indigenous territories are home to the highest percentage of biodiversity on the planet.

The answer is simple. It is because of our profound connection to our territories and our traditional knowledge. We have learned to preserve our territories and their natural resource bases and passed this knowledge from parents to children for centuries. Our survival is a testament to Indigenous Peoples’ ability to observe, adapt and incorporate traditional knowledge to ever-changing ecosystems, and harmoniously reside within the biological diversity of Mother Earth.

This all-encompassing richness in culture and traditions allows Indigenous Peoples to develop and sustain diverse and unique food systems. From reindeer herding to gathering wild plants and berries, Indigenous Peoples generate and collect food in complex, holistic and resilient ways whilst always respecting the need to preserve the biological diversity that generates and maintains harmony in nature. Eating and feeding but without destroying. Eating and feeding but maintaining biodiversity. Eating and feeding thanks to Mother Earth’s generosity that needs to be nurtured, protected and respected. In nature, everything is alive and has an ultimate purpose and reason of being. This purpose, often overlooked in scientific assessments, is unfortunately better grasped when the plant or animal or berry has disappeared, and the balance is gone.

Indigenous Peoples’ wisdom, traditional knowledge and ability to adapt provide lessons from which other non-indigenous societies can learn, especially when designing more sustainable food systems that mitigate climate change and environmental degradation. We are all in a race against time with the speed of events accelerating by the day.

It is crucial to recognise Indigenous Peoples as key players in achieving the 2030 Agenda and to create larger spaces for more inclusive dialogues recognising the vast lessons to be learned from them.

Although Indigenous Peoples and their ecological-based food systems have adapted and survived for centuries, pressures from extractive industries, intensive agricultural schemes, lack of access to natural resources, increasing environmental degradation, and drastic changes in climatic conditions are posing major threats to our livelihoods. Our food systems are not only relevant to us, but to the global community as well. This is why the global community must listen and join forces with Indigenous Peoples and advocate for the preservation and safeguarding of Indigenous Peoples’ food systems before it is too late and the knowledge we hold, accumulated over hundreds of years, is gone forever.

Many other challenges have the potential to devastate Indigenous Peoples’ food systems. These include the migration of Indigenous Peoples away from indigenous communities to urban centres, and the increased capitalization and monetization of their economies due to their increased connectivity to commercialized societies. Their traditional knowledge is also disappearing at an alarming rate. As indigenous elders, who preserve and share this knowledge, gradually pass away, much of this traditional knowledge disappears with them.

Indigenous Peoples hold internationally recognised rights for the preservation of their food systems through the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), particularly through the inherent right to self-determination and their right to food. The right to food of Indigenous Peoples was also recognised in the 2004 Voluntary Guidelines on the Right to Food, indicating how these rights are strongly linked to Indigenous Peoples’ lands, resources and culture. Therefore, human-rights-based dialogue is necessary to ensure the inclusion of Indigenous Peoples in global debates on ending hunger and ensuring food security for all.

The United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII) will take forth this dialogue in upcoming annual sessions.

The UNPFII welcomes the recognition of Indigenous Peoples by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) as allies in the fight against malnutrition and food insecurity. We have accompanied FAO in all relevant work for the implementation of its Policy on Indigenous and Tribal Peoples since 2010.

The UNPFII also recognises FAO’s relevant work on Indigenous Peoples’ food systems, specifically the two key publications that FAO and the Center for Indigenous Peoples’ Nutrition and Environment (CINE) at McGill University released in 2009 and 2013. These publications provided much-needed insights into our traditional food systems, their utilization, and changes in the dietary patterns in our communities. In 2018, the High-Level Expert Seminar on Indigenous Food Systems in Rome organised by FAO brought together countries, Indigenous Peoples and academics to share traditional and scientific knowledge to identify research and policy gaps on Indigenous Peoples’ food systems.

The UNPFII celebrates and welcomes this current publication, which combines research and case studies that delve into Indigenous Peoples’ food systems. This publication is an important step in creating a deeper understanding of Indigenous Peoples’ food systems. In this regard, this publication maps eight diverse Indigenous Peoples’ food systems, providing insights and details into their unique elements of sustainability and resilience. FAO has conducted this participatory field research in collaboration with the Alliance of Bioversity International and CIAT, engaging with Indigenous Peoples and their communities.

I would like to thank all the Indigenous Peoples and members of their communities, as well as the researchers, who have contributed to this work. We hope this publication motivates policymakers to integrate Indigenous Peoples’ perspectives in the debates about sustainable food systems. We must align altogether on the path towards a more just and sustainable world, tackling climate change and accelerating solutions to humankind´s greatest challenges.


Anne Nuorgam,
Chair of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII)