Bioversity international

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

Globalization, income, barter, trade, processed foods, waste

Internal positive driver - Indigenous Peoples’ food systems and cash income generation

All participating indigenous communities sell items to generate income. The MelanesiansSI harvest the wild ngali nut that they market at the international level, mostly to New Caledonia. The Maya Ch’orti’ sell various handicrafts made of palm at the market. The Khasi sell bamboo baskets and crops, which contribute around 40 percent of household income. The Bhotia and Anwal base their income on the selling of their crops, sheep and goats to nearby villages. They also sell wood and bamboo handicrafts. The Kel Tamasheq and the Inari Sámi obtain the majority of their income from the selling of their animals or animal products in local and national markets. The Tikuna, Cocama and Yagua mainly sell the surplus from their chagra plots to the urban area of Puerto Nariño. In the case of the Maya Ch’orti’, the main source of income comes from off-farm labour.

In the eight communities, in addition to food and inputs for the food system, cash incomes were primarily used to meet the needs for allopathic medicines, education, transportation and communication. However, cash incomes were not always considered adequate. That is particularly the case for the Baka, who reported not getting a fair price for the selling of their forest products. Due to the remoteness of the Nongtraw and Namik villages, the vegetables sold by the Khasi, and the Bhotia and Anwal are often less fresh and start to rot when they reach the markets, which affects price. The degree of dependency on the market by the different communities to sell and buy foods played a role in the prices obtained. For instance, the Maya Ch’orti’ and the Kel Tamasheq rely on the market to meet their food security, whilst the Tikuna Cocama and Yagua are self-sufficient in food and sell their surplus in the market.

Internal positive driver - Relevance of sharing, barter and trading practices

Trade, barter and sharing are practised to different degrees in all eight food systems. The MelanesiansSI have been trading with different islands to fetch items that were not sourced locally. Similarly, the Tikuna, Cocama and Yagua, and the Inari Sámi have been trading fish, meat and fruits with other non-indigenous and Indigenous Peoples. For instance, the Baka hunter-gatherers have been bartering and trading with the neighbouring Bantu farmers to maintain their livelihoods for generations. They collect several wild edibles such as Irvingia kernels, Aframomum pods and Ricinodendron nuts, for instance, that they exchange with the Bantu. For the Baka, food sharing is common; when one family has more food than necessary, they share it rather than store it. The barter system is also strong amongst the Kel Tamasheq, the Maya Ch’orti’, and the Bhotia and Anwal, making these food systems locally interdependent. All participating communities have traditionally practised barter and food sharing as a form of solidarity based on the reciprocal practices common amongst Indigenous Peoples’ societies. However, the monetization of the economy is progressively leading several communities away from these ancestral safety nets and communal practices, favouring selling for cash versus in-kind exchanges.

Internal negative driver - Markets and cash-generation reshapes food systems, affects biodiversity and health

In all eight communities, trade has been occurring for hundreds of years. Whist trade has traditionally taken place through barter, the recent improved access to markets by traditionally isolated indigenous communities has brought along several new elements into their economies. In the eight cases, this increasing interest in the market for income generation is reinforcing the importance of cash and accelerating the monetization of these traditional economies. The cash and monetization of the transactions has led to an interest in accumulation in the form of products or cash to purchase manufactured goods (motorbikes, fishing nets, improved tools, snowmobiles, boats). This trend is accompanied in some of the profiles by the intensification of cultivation, harvesting, fishing and hunting geared to cover the demands of the market. The differential shifting of the eight food systems towards markets, cash and monetization is accompanied by the learning of some of the effects of this new impetus. This relatively recent focus on the market, occurring during the past hundred years, is reshaping profoundly these food systems that for centuries have come up with sophisticated territorial management practices to ensure self-sufficiency and based on barter, exchange, reciprocity and solidarity. This is affecting environmental biodiversity, sustainability and the diversity of foods within the system, as well as the social fabric, traditions, and the health and nutrition of the community. The selling at the market of nutritious foods generated by the Indigenous Peoples’ food system occurs at the same time new highly processed and imported foods are purchased for consumption. This increasing consumption of highly processed and imported foods has had a direct impact on preferences and tastes, affecting traditional knowledge and deteriorating the health in the communities. The interest in cash generation has altered relationships amongst villagers in some of the communities, with evidence of individualistic behaviours growing and abandonment of collective tasks and communal work. Competition for selling goods has risen.

For the MelanesiansSI, the arrival of missionaries marked the starting point of the conversion from a self-sufficient system towards a monetized economy. With the introduction of income, the dependence on cash increased over time. Today, incomes within the community are increasing as community members sell more home garden products, handmade crafts and goods to the markets. The community is working on achieving certification for the selling of the ngali nuts that they collect from the wild. Since the 1990s, the MelanesiansSI have increased their consumption of highly processed and imported commercial foods, whilst their consumption of fresh and traditional foods has decreased. Now, their freshly gathered and produced food items are sold in the market to pay their children´s school fees. This market-induced shift in the MelanesiansSI diet has resulted in poor health outcomes, such as high blood pressure, high blood glucose, and increasing rates of obesity and people being overweight.

Between 1960 and 1970, the Tikuna, Cocama and Yagua increasingly engaged in fishing, hunting and gathering of wild fish, animals and plant species for commercial use. This included the pirarucú (Arapaima gigas Schinz, Osteoglossidae), the black caiman (Melanosuchus niger Spix, Alligatoridae), the jaguar (Panthera onca L., Felidae) and otters (Pteronura brasiliensis Gmelin, Mustelidae and Lontra longicaudis Olfers, Mustelidae). This was rendered possible thanks to the adoption of nylon nets, which negatively impacted the biodiversity in the natural ecosystem. Once the level of the damage was understood, community members engaged in protecting the biodiversity in their territories, adhering to the Ramsar Convention and starting a sustainable community fisheries programme to reverse the reduction in catches of certain species.

In Namik where the Bhotia and Anwal live, the few families that receive cash from their relatives working in urban areas rely less on the barter system, consequently affecting the social bonds within the community. Community members are now more interested in getting maximum return from their production system, when previously they offered each other gifts without expectation of reciprocity. The Khasi have abandoned barter altogether now that their income has increased thanks to markets, with community members exonerated from their traditional tasks so they can dedicate their time to produce handicrafts to be sold at the market. The Maya Ch’orti have seen their traditional weaven textiles displaced by the arrival of cheap manufactured cloths at the market.

Cash-generation in communities that until recently have a low level of monetization and little access to markets has become one of the major drivers reshaping at once the preferences, tastes, social bonds, safety nets and traditional solidarity mechanisms. There is no doubt that this will continue in the near future and has raised the question of how much will the resilience and sustainability of traditional practices be compromised to meet market demand.

External positive driver - Improved infrastructure and better access to markets and information

With globalization, the communities have seen improved infrastructure, offering better marketing prospects for indigenous foods. The MelanesiansSI, for example, rely on a 90-minute petrol-powered boat ride to reach the market and sell their foods. The Khasi still lack proper infrastructure and have to carry their products from the village up 3 000 steps to reach the road. If they reach the market late, they face a problem in getting a good price for their goods. A road to the village would greatly enhance their income opportunities. A similar situation exists for the Bhotia and Anwal, who suffer from remoteness and minimal road access to sell fresh food on the market. All participating communities expressed their interest in accessing better infrastructure that improves their mobility and access to markets following the principle of FPIC.

External negative driver - Processed foods bringing inorganic waste

The eight communities have a long-lasting tradition and knowledge about integrating organic by-products and waste generated back into the system as inputs. But inorganic waste is a different issue with the introduction of processed foods, bringing a new profusion of packaging materials, plastics and bags into the communities. Batteries and allopathic medicines have also become sources of waste. For most communities, this is a relatively new phenomenon. The lack of waste management plans, facilities and awareness has further compounded the effect of inorganic waste in otherwise pristine areas. The Bothia and Anwal throw inorganic waste from marketed products outside their houses. This practice pollutes the local landscape and water streams. It is interesting to compare this practice with other traditional behaviours, such as educating through tales about not urinating in water streams to keep them clean and drinkable, reaffirming the community values about their environment.

With respect to inorganic and organic waste, this situation affects non-indigenous and Indigenous Peoples alike in both developed and developing countries. However, there is need for better understanding about the use of biodegradable materials for packaging, clothes and construction materials. Many of the biodegradable and organic products used by Indigenous Peoples are available locally and should be promoted through local legislation. In some instances, the environmental legislation in some countries, although well-intended, can be counterproductive to the harvesting and use of natural by-products from the forest that traditionally have been used sustainably by Indigenous Peoples for centuries.

During the fieldwork, there were reports of some positive experiences of recycling inorganic waste that could pave the way for the adoption of these schemes at the community level in other parts of the world.


Discuss with indigenous leaders about environmental legislation hampering or restricting the use of by-products from the forest in their areas. Their suggestions should be incorporated to allow Indigenous Peoples to exercise their livelihoods whilst protecting the environment.

Include in national school curriculums education programmes that are culturally sensitive and that will reinforce traditional knowledge and healthy eating practices.

Through the Ministries of Health, Agriculture, Environment, Commerce and Development, jointly analyze in specific commissions the importance of reducing or eliminating inorganic materials in the bottling, wrapping and packaging of processed and commercial foods. The experience of some countries in banning plastic bags7 has been exemplary policymaking for the rest of the world that could be expanded in the case of processed foods.


Within the UNPFII establish dedicated expert sessions to discuss how to facilitate the development of labelling and certification schemes for Indigenous Peoples’ foods generated by healthy and sustainable food systems that protect the environment. These sessions should also address how to access the market with a preferential rate that guarantees that the added value along the chain is redistributed as much as possible to the community.

Undertake a coordinated effort through several of its main agencies to issue a statement that can help governments tackle the problem of highly processed and imported commercial foods with regards to Indigenous Peoples’ health and environment.


Together with the UN undertake studies on the thresholds of wild edibles in response to market demand. It is questionable that without domestication, wild edibles, dependent on the health of the ecosystem in which they thrive, can sustain the markets’ demand without being depleted. More dedicated research is needed.


Through indigenous organizations, together with NGOs and research centres, train communities on how to market their produce without losing their culture and values along the process. There are some good examples of certification and labelling. The reindeer meat marketed by the Inari Sámi is a good starting point.

Through indigenous youth, carry out an analysis on how new technologies could help Indigenous Peoples access urban markets, bypassing intermediaries.