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POLICY RECOMMENDATIONS Rights to land, territories, natural resources and nomadism

Rights to land, territories, natural resources and nomadism

The analysis from the field research shows how each food system is unique in terms of the pressures they are exposed to, as well as the diverse territorial management practices, climates, flora, fauna, culture, spirituality and traditional knowledge upon which the system is based. This richness and variety also showed certain commonalities between food systems that need to be understood and further analyzed. In the framework of these commonalities, several drivers emerged as having a direct impact on the health, sustainability and ability to generate food and income in the food systems. Without being intrinsically “good” or “bad”, these drivers – some external and others internal – affect either positively or negatively the continuity, resilience and sustainability of the food systems. Some systems are more sustainable than others. Some are changing rapidly to adapt to the market. Others have seen their traditional knowledge weaken. The scope of this publication is not to judge which changes are good or bad, but to analyze the resilience and sustainability of Indigenous Peoples’ food systems. Therefore, this objective has guided the organization of the drivers and their categorisation as positive in terms of contributing to the resilience and sustainability, and negative in terms of undermining them. These drivers have been clustered in groups as shown in Table 0.2.

TABLE 0.2. Drivers of sustainability identified through the profiling of eight Indigenous Peoples’ food systems image image

The policy recommendations at the end of each cluster of drivers seek to provide responses to address these drivers, indicating institutions and groups that could play a key role in improving the situation.

All policy recommendations are made under the overall framework of the UNDRIP, and the right to FPIC. Their aim is to advance the learning, preservation and promotion of Indigenous Peoples’ food systems within the framework of the UN Decade of Action on Nutrition (2016-2025) and the Agenda 2030 for the SDGs.


Internal positive driver - Collective rights over communal resources

The 11 Indigenous Peoples present in the eight participating indigenous communities rely heavily for their livelihoods on the collective rights and access to communal resources such as lakes, lands, forests and seas. The levels of respect and recognition of these collective rights to communal resources varies greatly from country to country and within different communities. For instance, the Constitution of Colombia recognises the rights of Indigenous Peoples, including the Tikuna, Cocama and Yagua, and their territorial autonomy. In several cases, such as the Baka, the Khasi and the Inari Sámi, external pressures over the communal resources and restraint in exercising their collective rights had a direct impact on their food systems. The Baka, despite being aware of their collective rights to forest resources, are now constrained by a zoning policy that establishes areas for hunting, gathering and fishing. In the Maya Ch’orti’ food system, recent episodes of injustice and violence have led to insufficient access to farmland and forests, impairing food security and diet quality. Most communities rely on astilleros, or communal forest areas between villages, for firewood and wild edibles to complement their diet.

There is need for more dedicated research to better understand the relationship between biodiversity preservation and Indigenous Peoples’ collective use of communal resources. In the eight food systems analyzed, there are few examples of policies supporting Indigenous Peoples’ collective access to communal natural resources. However, evidence strongly suggests that the use of communal resources by Indigenous Peoples is directly related to the health of their food system and the level of conservation of biodiversity.

Internal positive driver - Nomadism and mobile livelihoods

Nomadic, semi-nomadic and mobile activities like shifting cultivation, hunting, fishing and pastoralism are common territorial management practices in the analyzed food systems. Those Indigenous Peoples whose traditional food systems include mobile activities refer to the importance of revitalizing and protecting this mobility to ensure the sustainability of the food system. Mobility has also transformed over time. Several of the governance and customary mechanisms were developed to regulate the shifting cycles with the purpose of ensuring proper management of the natural resources and its replenishment.

The Inari Sámi, the Baka, the Kel Tamasheq, the Khasi, the Tikuna, Cocama and Yagua, the Bothia and Anwal, and the MelanesiansSI all report the importance of their different mobile activities within their territories to ensure environmental and biodiversity conservation and food generation. The Khasi practise jhum or shifting cultivation, obtaining significant numbers of species for food through this rotating practice in the forest. The Baka food system depends largely on mobility within forests for sourcing animals, mushrooms, herbs and wild tubers. The Kel Tamasheq have been nomadic people for hundreds of years, following water and pasture availability for their flocks. The Tikuna, Cocama and Yagua follow the flooding cycles of their ecosystem, shifting their fishing areas and their home gardens. The Inari Sámi combine reindeer nomadic herding with gathering and fishing. The food system of the Bothia and Anwal depends on the balance between the settled farming by some communities and the transhumance of others.

From the analysis of the profiles, those shifting cultivation patterns that have reduced either their shifting period or area could manifest signs of unsustainability. This is particularly the case of the MelanesiansSI and the Khasi, who reduced their fallow period as a consequence of increased demography, leading to reduced soil fertility. The Maya Ch’orti’ have seen their mobile practices significantly reduced, and their hunting and insect gathering have almost been abandoned.

All the communities using mobility, nomadism and shifting practices as essential territorial management of their food system have stated that in recent years, in particular in the last 40-50 years, obstacles and rules against mobile practices have increased exponentially, negatively affecting their food systems and the area’s biodiversity. The recognition, respect and legislation to protect nomadism and mobile livelihoods vary significantly across countries. A positive case from the countries where food systems were analyzed is Mali. The Pastoral Charter (Law n° 01-004 of 27 February 2001) recognises the rights to pastoralists to carry their mobile livelihoods’ and activities and the Law on Agricultural Orientation (Law n° 06-045 of 5 September 2006) acknowledges the environmental benefits of transhumance. However, mobile activities and livelihoods in most other cases where the research took place are either not protected or discouraged, with policies favouring settlement, sometimes forcefully, of Indigenous Peoples. In addition, policies are in place that either give concessions to private mining and agriculture firms or promote the settlement of colonists on indigenous lands and territories, directly compromising Indigenous Peoples’ mobile livelihoods. Mobile livelihoods often clash with the interests and practices of settled communities who have historically benefited from legislated protection of rights in most countries. There is need for further research to understand how these legislations and policy measures have contributed to environmental degradation.

External positive driver - Involvement of Indigenous Peoples in governmental institutions

There have been positive developments to include Indigenous Peoples in new institutions, both at the grassroots level and in top-down processes, involving them in policy and normative discussions about collective rights to land, territory and natural resources. The Maya Ch’orti’ have organised groups at various levels for their participatory decision-making regarding natural resources in their communities. They are participating in national programmes and initiatives on agriculture and to regenerate and protect forests. The Khasi in Nongtraw, thanks to support from the Government and NGOs, participate in recently created community institutions to discuss the governance of natural resources. The Khasi participate in the village council, in the Biodiversity Management Committee (BMC) and in the Village Disaster Management Committee (VDMC). The Inari Sámi leverage Article 9 of the Act of the Sámi Parliament on the “Obligation to negotiate” to force negotiations and stop the logging in their traditional lands by Metsähallitus, the Department of Forest Management.

When Indigenous Peoples are included in governmental institutions’ discussions about natural resource management, they bring to the table their vast experience with biodiversity conservation and environmental management. This active engagement and participation is a positive driver to greatly expand collaborations.

External negative driver - Lack of security of access to the ancestral territories and use of natural resources

From the Amazonian jungles to the taiga in Sámi land in the Arctic, from the forests in Cameroon to the Himalayan hills, the increased insecurity surrounding indigenous territories is negatively affecting Indigenous Peoples’ food systems and their sustainability. This is further exacerbated when the ownership of the land by Indigenous Peoples is not recognised by the State, for example through titling. This leads to concessions to extractive industries, commercial agriculture and logging companies. In 2002, the Inari Sámi started a legal process due to a land-use conflict with the Finnish State Forestry Enterprise “Metsähallitus” to secure and protect their traditional pasture and forest lands from logging activities in the Kippalrova area. The Sámi presented the case to the UN Human Rights Committee, resulting in a moratorium on the logging activities for the next 20 years, explicitly recognising the Sámi people’s right to enjoy their own culture enshrined in Article 27 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which in this case secured the Sámi’s land-use rights. Lack of security to exercise collective rights applies directly to the use of natural resources. Since 2016, the Government of Meghalaya has intervened in the functioning of the Khasi community of Nongtraw, restricting jhum or shifting cultivation and requiring a written document from the Government for land transactions within the community.

In some cases, the State’s conservation policies over Indigenous Peoples’ lands can create conflicts, even when these policies are well intended. Several cases are highlighted throughout this publication. The Bothia and Anwal faced the effects of the 1972 Wildlife Protection Act and the 2002 Biodiversity Act, resulting in the banning of their hunting and most of their ancestral gathering practices in their forests. This reduced the availability of foods in the food system, increasing dependency on the market for meat, eggs and other items, and favouring the domestication of animals. The Baka suffered from the rapid expansion of logging activities that began in 1960, which reduced their forest resources. The creation in 2005 of the Boumba-Bek National Park further limited their access to forest areas for food and medicine.

This driver is identified as one of the main external drivers outside of the system that most affects the present and future of Indigenous Peoples’ food systems. If it is not addressed, it will seriously compromise the viability of these ancestral knowledge systems. Looking at the results in terms of land degradation, biodiversity loss, impact on human well-being and other externalities generated, the success and sustainability of these governmental conservation and environmental measures is sometimes questionable. More dedicated research is needed to analyze the effects on biodiversity when States’ conservation measures are put in place over Indigenous Peoples’ ancestral management of their territories.


Implement the Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure of land, fisheries and forests in the context of National Food Security (VGGT) (FAO, 2012) and sector-specific guidelines such as the Voluntary Guidelines for Securing Sustainable Small-Scale Fisheries (SFF Guidelines) (FAO, 2015) whilst continuing to involve Indigenous Peoples and their representatives in institutions and legislative settings.

Set up a multi-actors committee at the national level to look at biodiversity conservation. This committee should involve indigenous leaders and the Ministries in charge of environment, land planning and reform, and agriculture and management. If Indigenous Peoples can organise themselves at the national level into an umbrella coordination mechanism, this should be part of the Committee. The Committee will come up with a National Plan that identifies obstacles to exercising collective rights and mobility, proposing alternatives that guarantee customary rights of Indigenous Peoples and promoting nomadism and mobile livelihoods. Special attention will be given to the continuity of ancestral indigenous practices that have generated and maintained ecosystems of high biodiversity value.

Follow the recommendations of this multi-actor committee by legislative legitimacy at the parliamentary level. In particular, land titling or schemes that guarantee the exercising of collective rights by Indigenous Peoples would be key activities to follow.

Issue a specific permit or identification to Indigenous Peoples that are nomadic/mobile to enable them to move freely in their territories, ensuring that their ancestral rights to movement and their associated livelihoods can be exercised. This identification or permit will grant governmental recognition and de facto protection of mobile and nomadic ways of living within the country and across borders.

Together with the UN and NGOs, rethink their approach to biodiversity conservation when considering the creation of national parks and natural reserves in territories previously belonging to Indigenous Peoples. Governments should collaborate with Indigenous Peoples in protected areas, benefiting from their knowledge to manage and restore biodiversity whilst they can still practise their traditional livelihoods. These biodiverse-rich areas are the result of their ancestral management practices.


Together with governments and research institutions, host a routine technical seminar followed by a statement about the need to protect rights to customary land and natural resources, collective rights, and nomadic livelihoods, avoiding concessions to the private sector, and stopping licenses for deforestation, mining, and intensive agriculture and livestock schemes, in the frame of the VGGT (FAO, 2012) and the SFF Guidelines (FAO, 2015).

Mediate between Indigenous Peoples and the states, through the UN country teams in the countries and at the global level, to reach moratoriums about interventions on indigenous and nomadic territories that have not followed the principles and process of FPIC with the Indigenous Peoples living from those resources. This will reduce tensions and violence and enable a period of revision of the policies adopted.

Issue a statement recommending an international moratorium about displacing Indigenous Peoples from their ancestral lands to have conservation areas set up.


Undertake further dedicated research on three important areas: the linkages between ecosystem services and collective management of the environment and nomadic livelihoods; the impact of resettlement policies on the environment and biodiversity for those areas previously subjected to nomadic or mobile livelihoods; and an environmental impact analysis for nomadic livelihoods that have shortened their cycles or reduced their areas.

It is recommended that the Global-Hub on Indigenous Peoples’ Food Systems, hosted by FAO, UN specialized agencies and indigenous organizations, undertake dedicated work about certifying Indigenous Peoples’ foods generated through nomadic and mobile livelihoods, highlighting the ecosystem services they provide and analyzing mobile territorial management practices such as shifting cultivation, nomadism and transhumance.