Bioversity international

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

Continuity of traditional practices, adaptation and innovation

Internal positive driver - Adaptive capacity to change

Indigenous Peoples’ food systems have survived for centuries, some for millennia, having adapted over time to climate variations, colonization and displacements. They have shown incredible ingenuity and adaptive capacity that has made them resilient through change and dynamism, whilst maintaining traditional wisdom and practices. This delicate balance between change and dynamism, and traditional knowledge through observation, is shared across all eight analyzed Indigenous Peoples’ food systems. For instance, the MelanesiansSI have adapted their socio-economic and food patterns to the availability of petrol and motorized boats, which have taken the place of their traditional sailing boats. The Inari Sámi have adapted their traditional migratory and nomadic reindeer patterns to new legislation on cooperatives, creating a hybrid system that enables them to continue with their reindeer herding methods. Indigenous Peoples have been eager to adopt new livelihoods, practices and tools that improve their lives. Since the 1990s, the Baka in Cameroon have adapted their hunting practices in response to the intensification of bushmeat hunting and displacement of animal populations deeper in the forest. They tend to restrain their trapping activities as soon as a decrease in game capture is observed, hence facilitating the recovery of the animals’ populations.

Internal positive driver - Continuity in the use of traditional practices and techniques

The use of inputs from outside their territory is limited in the eight food systems, should it be seeds, agrochemicals, fuel, mechanization or electricity. Noticeably, only the Maya Ch’orti’ explicitly mentioned applying agrochemicals on the milpa production plots, and the Bothia and Anwal have started applying inorganic fertilizers and pesticides. On the contrary, the Baka, the Tikuna, Cocama and Yagua, the Khasi, and the MelanesiansSI choose not to use them. Fallow and use of organic matter as compost is the primary strategy for nurturing soil. Households often save kitchen scraps and crop residues to use on crops in several sites. Kitchen gardens flourish from grey water and the manure of roaming chickens amongst the Khasi, the Bothia and Anwal, and the Maya Ch’orti’. Several of the communities continue practising shifting cultivation, although the fallow period that enabled the soil and vegetation to regenerate has generally reduced over time due to demography and external actors’ pressure on the territories. Livestock often graze freely or are fed local products. The Inari Sámi and the Kel Tamasheq sometimes resort to purchasing feed and forage. Although new tools, machinery and techniques are being incorporated more and more, human labour and tools from materials sourced in the surroundings are still predominant. The Khasi use traditional machetes, iron cups and spades for farming, and the Bhotia and Anwal build tools from materials in their forests, with their blacksmiths building their traditional tools. The expected trend is a progressive increase in the use of new tools, techniques and inputs from outside of the territory as mobility increases thanks to the growing demand for petrol fuels for transportation.

Internal positive driver - Preference for traditional foods

The participating communities agreed that despite the irruption and increasing consumption of highly processed and imported commercial foods, they prefer their traditional foods. Bushmeat is the preferred food of the Baka and the Inari Sámi prefer their traditional foods, with children especially favouring reindeer stew and fish. These preferences motivate the Baka and the Inari Sámi to continue their traditional food sourcing activities despite the growing presence of alternative food sources. For those Indigenous Peoples practising agriculture to produce their food, this means a preference for their traditional crops and breeds. For the Maya Ch’orti’, taste is the primary factor in their choice and maintenance of local maize varieties. The Bothia and Anwal continue producing their local varieties of amaranth, potato, finger millet and beans. The Khasi interplant in their jhum plots in forest areas several of their traditional seed varieties. The preference for traditional crops and breeds ensures the maintenance of the genetic pool of traditional seed varieties that, together with the wild and semi-domesticated species existing in the surrounding lands and forests, contribute to the maintenance of the overall biodiversity and to the preservation in situ of the genetic pool.

External positive drivers - New techniques and innovations adopted

Different innovations and new techniques have increased efficiency in food production, sourcing and processing for some of the profiled food systems. For example, snowmobiles have reduced labour for herding amongst the Inari Sámi. The use of wire cables replacing vegetal ropes has increased hunting efficiency for the Baka. An electric mill was introduced by the Khasi, reducing the drudgery in processing finger millet and enabling the production of products with increased value-add for the market. Often these innovations increased dependence on external sources of energy (electricity, petrol) but not exclusively, as seen in the case of bicycle-powered machines that were introduced for producing crafts by a Maya Ch’orti’ community in Chiquimula. Some of the new techniques incorporated also carry implicit new effects in the ecosystem that need to be researched. For instance, the Tikuna, Cocama and Yagua saw fish stocks in their rivers deplete due to their increased use of nylon nets. They resorted to asking the elders to design a community management fishing plan that would ensure the replenishment of the fish stocks before they were decimated.

External negative driver - Introduction of new seeds and breeds

New seed varieties have been arriving to the indigenous communities through different routes. In some cases, they come from barter and trade with neighbouring communities and non-indigenous populations. In other instances, new seeds are purchased in local markets, which may be local or introduced varieties. These seeds sometimes introduce a new crop that successfully adapts to the local environment. For example, the Baka in Cameroon mainly obtained varieties of plantain and cassava by sharing amongst local communities, whilst a few were brought by external organizations and integrated in their production systems. Sometimes, new seeds and crops are part of development packages promoted by the extension services of the different countries where Indigenous Peoples live. Regarding these agricultural extension packages, it has been observed that sometimes there is not sufficient discussion, consultation or consent by the Indigenous Peoples benefiting from these assistance programmes, resulting in failure. For example, the Tikuna, Cocama and Yagua peoples explained how sacha inchi (Plukenetia volubilis L., Euphorbiaceae, Inca peanut), introduced by the Ministry of Agriculture, has not been adopted by the indigenous community.

Introduced seeds and breeds in several cases contributed to displacing local ones. The Khasi reported that they have lost many traditional varieties as new crops have been introduced. Eight varieties of potato have disappeared in the last few decades, whilst three have been introduced in their place. The same is the case for sweet potato, where five traditional varieties have been replaced by only two over time. Some other species, such as millet, are still grown but varietal diversity has decreased over time, and they are planted on smaller areas. Equally, the introduction of a new breed of pig has led to abandonment of the local breed. This phenomenon has also occurred with the Bothia and Anwal, where the traditional crop amaranth is produced less than it was in the past. In the case of the MelanesiansSI, the reliance on local, traditional animal breeds, as well as plant species and varieties, has also decreased over time. The Bougainville banana, introduced in 1992, had the advantage of growing easily, which contributed to its expansion to the detriment of the rich plantain and banana biodiversity that exists in the territory. This has affected, amongst others, the Vitamin-A-rich Fei banana, which used to be a nutritious staple for breakfast. Whilst the introduction of new seed varieties and crops is not bad per se, and in most cases is well intentioned, some of the negative effects seem to be related to a lack of discussion with the Indigenous Peoples and the lack of measures in place to support traditional breeds and varieties. The varietal reduction is a concern.

External negative driver - Climate change and natural catastrophes

The high dependency of Indigenous Peoples’ food systems on natural resources and its cycles that made these food systems resilient over time is now making them vulnerable to the effects of climate change. The high adaptive capacity of Indigenous Peoples’ foods systems has met an insurmountable challenge posed by climate change. Climate change, along with increased recurrence of natural catastrophes, is negatively affecting Indigenous Peoples and their food systems. Climate change and climatic variability has altered the arrival, length and stability of seasonal weather patterns, affecting wild edibles and vegetation that are depleting at an alarming rate. The scientific evidence has been corroborated by the observations of the Indigenous Peoples participating in the profiling and detailing the recent changes in the environment. For instance, the Kel Tamasheq have seen their mobile patterns change due to a shortage of water sources since the Sahel droughts in 1973. This has affected the livelihoods of the Kel Tamasheq through loss of livestock, migration to neighbours’ countries, and loss of pastures and wild plants. The Inari Sámi are witnessing how the increased melting of the ice that later freezes now hampers reindeers’ ability to find the grass under the snow. The Bothia and Anwal have seen a reduction in the number of pollinators in the Himalaya region, as well as early flowering of wild plants like rhododendron. Climate change and the increase of natural calamities come across as one of the drivers most affecting the present and future of Indigenous Peoples’ food systems, testing its resilience and sustainability.


Enact legislation that protects Indigenous Peoples’ food systems legacy and traditional crops, ensuring that Indigenous Peoples and their knowledge is respected and taken into account as part of the cultural and environmental heritage of the countries.

Have a section of extensionists dedicated to Indigenous Peoples’ food systems within the ministries of agriculture. They will speak the indigenous languages, understand the food systems, and be able to provide technical advice to the Indigenous Peoples on how to improve their production as well as incorporate some new techniques, varieties and practices. It is recommended that the Ministries of Agriculture and Environment incorporate, amongst their extensionists and agents, the principle of FPIC when working in indigenous territories.

In respect of the UNDRIP, through the different ministries, stop any development and interventions in indigenous territories that have not received the consent of Indigenous Peoples following the process of FPIC.


Discuss with the member countries, through the UN country teams, the policy and scientific recommendations made at the global level by the UNFCCC and the Intergovernmental Panel of Experts on Climate Change (IPCC) and how they can be implemented locally in relation to Indigenous Peoples and climate change.

Establish voluntary guidelines to protect native local seeds and recommend that the introduction of new seeds should be decided by the Indigenous Peoples’ communities at the local level following localized testing and adaptation that can be supported by the relevant Ministries of Environment and Agriculture.