FAO Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific

FAO and partners’ joint studies call for indigenous people’s rights for shifting cultivation in harmony with environmental sustainability

17/06/2015 Bangkok, Thailand

A new publication launched today is calling for better recognition of indigenous peoples’ rights to shifting cultivation practices in countries of the Asia-Pacific region in order to ensure indigenous people are food-secure in coming years.

FAO, in collaboration with the Asia Indigenous Peoples Pact (AIPP) and the International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs (IWGIA), has published seven case studies of indigenous peoples in Bangladesh, Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Lao PDR, Nepal and Thailand.

The publication, Shifting Cultivation, Livelihood and Food Security: New and Old Challenges for Indigenous Peoples in Asia, examines the challenges indigenous people continue to face in the region – particularly in relation to shifting cultivation – and also reveals some of the good practices which proved the sustainability of shifting cultivation, if environmentally sound and properly managed.All of the case studies highlight the need to assist indigenous shifting cultivators by improving their agriculture-based livelihood systems for better food security.

“This important body of work underlines the need for greater recognition of the rights of indigenous people across this region,” said Hiroyuki Konuma, FAO Assistant Director-General and Regional Representative for Asia and the Pacific. “Indigenous peoples are among the most vulnerable groups when it comes to food insecurity, therefore recognition of their right to shifting cultivation is central to their future food security and environmental sustainability. In order to reach the goal of Zero Hunger, indigenous people must be supported as a top priority.”

According to the report, “Except for Nagaland in India, where the state recognizes the communities’ rights over the land and shifting cultivation based on customary law, indigenous communities in all other case studies continue shifting cultivation without legal recognition and protection of their rights to land. Accordingly, these case studies recommend the recognition of customary land rights.

Another important recommendation of the case studies relates to the need to improve farming systems and natural resource bases both for shifting cultivation-based food production and cash crop cultivation. Productivity increases through soil fertility improvements, crop diversification – both for own food and cash crops, better fallow management and combination with agroforestry are mentioned as priority areas of future support.

“Indigenous peoples with their different lifestyles and livelihoods related to their resource management systems are now gaining more attention in the face of climate change and food insecurity,” said Joan Carling Secretary-General of AIPP. “Evidence-based studies, including this report on shifting cultivation, clearly demonstrate that indigenous peoples’ sustainable livelihoods are actually not just conserving nature but are in fact enhancing biodiversity and providing food security for their communities. Their simple lifestyle has the least carbon footprint and their conservation measures even include carbon sequestration. It is thereby pertinent to review the negative regard and policies on indigenous peoples’ livelihoods such as shifting cultivation, and recognise the invaluable contributions of indigenous peoples to conservation of nature, food security and solutions to climate change.”

“The studies are testimonies of how diverse and dynamic indigenous peoples’ livelihood and land use systems are, but they also show that the age-old practice of shifting cultivation, that has been at the core of such systems for centuries, is still misunderstood by policy makers and thus under enormous pressure,” said Frank Sejersen, Chairman of the Board of IWGIA. “To successfully adapt in this rapidly changing world it is indispensable for indigenous communities that their rights to their land and resources and to their traditional occupations are recognized by governments, in line with international legal standards such as the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and relevant Conventions of the International Labour Organization.”

Last month, FAO announced that the Asia-Pacific region, as a whole, had achieved the Millennium Development Goal to reduce the proportion of hunger by half by 2015 (MDG-1c). But the region remains home to most of the world’s 795 million hungry people. Among them are some of the most disadvantaged groups, including indigenous people, who, as the report points out, often have their basic rights unrecognized and access to land denied, leaving them food insecure.

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