Global Forum on Food Security and Nutrition (FSN Forum)

Dear FSN colleagues,

Please allow me to write to you in reference to the online e-consultation “Guidance on strengthening national science-policy interfaces for agrifood systems – Draft report”.

Kindly find the contribution of the Global-Hub on Indigenous Peoples’ Food Systems to the e-consultation.  

The Global-Hub on Indigenous Peoples’ Food Systems is a space of co-creation of knowledge between Indigenous and non-Indigenous experts from Universities, research centres, UN Agencies, Indigenous Peoples. The Global-Hub aims to generate evidence on the sustainability and resilience of Indigenous Peoples’ food systems whilst putting Indigenous Peoples’ knowledge systems and academic science at same level of respect and consideration. Today, the Global-Hub brings together 31 members and 2 collaborators. FAO Indigenous Peoples Unit acts as Secretariat.  

I remain attentive to any feedback that you might have.

Thank you very much and best regards,

Anne Brunel

Technical Officer

Coordinator, Global-Hub on Indigenous Peoples’ Food Systems

Indigenous Peoples Unit

Partnerships and UN Collaboration Division (PSU)


Contribution from the Global-Hub on Indigenous Peoples’ Food Systems to the FSN Forum e-consultation: Guidance on strengthening national science-policy interfaces for agrifood systems – Draft report.

  1. When you think about advancing an SPI for agri-food systems in your country, what is the greatest challenge that the FAO guidance, such as presented here, can help address? What suggestions do you have to make the guidance more practical and useable at the country level?

In its current form, the draft guidance does well to acknowledge Indigenous Peoples as key knowledge holders. This is a welcome advancement in comparison to narratives commonly used that refer to Indigenous knowledge without putting Indigenous Peoples at the centre and recognizing them as knowledge holders. 

However, when thinking about translating the guidance to national level, the draft could do more to further stress that Indigenous Peoples are also distinctive rights holders. Many countries still do not recognise Indigenous Peoples’ distinct identity and their associated bundle of rights (UN, 2007), nor their distinctive status as knowledge holders. Even where Indigenous Peoples are recognised as thus, their rights are often violated. This includes rights to self-determined development; free, prior and informed consent (FPIC); and rights to protect, maintain and control their knowledge, as enshrined in the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP). This also implies the right to respect their self-governance systems in decision-making and implementation.

The importance to respect those rights has been reiterated by Indigenous Peoples and leaders in recent several instances. In March 2024, the three UN Mechanisms on Indigenous Peoples, namely the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII), the Special rapporteur on the rights of Indigenous Peoples (SRIP), and the Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (EMRIP), issued a joint statement recalling the importance to recognize Indigenous Peoples as right and knowledge holders. Consequently, they requested to stop the use of the term Indigenous Peoples in conjunction with local communities, as well as the use of the acronym “IPLC”. They also requested to refer to “Indigenous Peoples’ knowledge”, rather than to “Indigenous knowledge” in order to emphasize the ownership of Indigenous Peoples over their knowledge. In the same context, consideration should be given to the use of the terms “traditional” food and “Indigenous” food. Indigenous Peoples’ food should refer only to the use of the food by Indigenous Peoples, which would also be their traditional food.  Traditional food of other cultures should have the name of that culture or territory attached, and not be assumed to be the food of Indigenous Peoples.  The terms “indigenous food” or “Indigenous food”, meaning food species that evolved in a particular ecosystem, should be discontinued. 

In October 2023, the II Session of the UN Global Indigenous Youth Forum resulted in the 2023 Rome Declaration on Safeguarding Seven Generations in times of Food, Social, and Ecological Crisis, in which the Indigenous Youth urge to stop the exploitation of Indigenous Peoples’ food and knowledge systems by external actors. Whilst recognizing the power of their knowledge to support the sustainable transformation of food systems worldwide, they also demanded support for the preservation and strengthening of their knowledge systems based on Indigenous Peoples’ values and orality. Guidance such as this can help to address this challenge, urging countries to address violations of Indigenous Peoples’ rights as they seek to include and work them within SPIs.

The FAO guidance must emphasise that the development of SPIs must be accompanied by strong foundational, within-country support for Indigenous Peoples rights – or else, the SPI risks exacerbating Indigenous Peoples marginalisation, the exploitative use of their knowledge, and policy implementation excluding them. This emphasis could be brought out particularly within Section 5.1 (Operationalisation of an SPI), which currently does not mention engagement with rightsholders, nor associated processes such as FPIC.

A few suggestions to make FAO guidance more practical at country-level, could be to include:

  • Frameworks for good and ethical participatory engagement of Indigenous Peoples in decision and policy making processes. 

  • Provide guidance on mechanism for equitable benefit sharing to address power imbalance in benefit of Indigenous Peoples.

  • Provide guidance on clear and transparent mechanisms for conflicts resolution when Indigenous Peoples’ knowledge systems confront dominant scientific knowledge, leading to scientific recommendations and policies.

  • Case studies that highlight examples of successful work with Indigenous Peoples and integration of their knowledge in policies.

  • Tools allowing knowledge translation to ensure that Indigenous Peoples’ knowledge systems and associated terminologies, values, practices, know-how and cosmovisions, are accurately understood and valued within other knowledge systems, in particular the dominant scientific knowledge system.

  • Engagement with Indigenous Peoples to be completed in the local language, or with the assistance of local, Indigenous translators, to enable the participation and inclusion of diverse community members (particularly elders and women, who may be less likely to speak the dominant, national language).

Bodies of research highlight some cases where Indigenous Peoples recognize a need to gain technical knowledge and thus contribute to resource management led by techno-centric authorities. However, they express the wish to see two-way knowledge-sharing, where resource management authorities also learn about Indigenous Peoples’ knowledge systems (Stevenson 2006). This runs counter to common science communication practice which posit knowledge-sharing as one-way knowledge-transfer from techno-scientific authorities to local ‘lay’ actors (Ghorbani, et al., 2021). 

2. Are the sections/elements identified in the draft guidance the key ones to strengthen SPIs at the national level? If not, which other elements should be considered? Are there any other issues that have not been sufficiently covered in the draft guidance? Are any sections/topics under- or over-represented in relation to their importance?

In its current form, the guidance gives good recognition to Indigenous Peoples and their knowledge systems as critical to advancing sustainable food systems transformation. However, there is a tendency within the report to focus only on the inclusivity of diverse knowledge holders (such as Indigenous Peoples) on the “science” side of the interface. In contrast, on the “policy” side of the interface, the guidance currently underemphasises the importance of inclusion and participation of Indigenous Peoples in decision making and implementation, in virtue of UNDRIP and their right to self-governance. Especially given historical top-down processes of policy implementation, it is important to ensure that Indigenous Peoples are enabled to remain principal agents in the sharing and use of their knowledge and decide what and how policies are made that may directly or indirectly affect them, their territories, or natural resources. Currently, bottom-up approaches and community-level decision making are given only superficial mention within the guidance (page 44); instead, decisionmakers/implementers are assumed to be those already in power. The draft guidance should address this power imbalance within its reporting.

On the science side, scientists and science usually produce knowledge on priorities that are relevant to their discipline or their funders; similarly, Indigenous Peoples' knowledge is based on their own livelihood priorities and identified needs (e.g. can be decided at household and community levels relative to key risks experienced), therefore it is important to balance the participation of multiple knowledge holders. This will help to ensure the of knowledge shared with policymakers responds not only to the dominant science, but also to the knowledge holders.

The guidance could also do more to showcase Indigenous Peoples not as a homogenous group of knowledge holders but recognising the diverse array of Indigenous Peoples, cultures, spiritualities, cosmovisions, and thus knowledge holders often found across and within Indigenous Peoples’ communities. For example, within Indigenous Peoples’ communities, Indigenous women are often overlooked both as important knowledge holders (e.g. on matters relating to food gathering, seed selection and saving, biodiversity, and food preparation), as well as overlooked within policy and national statistics. Similarly, Indigenous elders often hold important knowledge on customary governance and territorial management practices, as well as medicinal plant use. 

The importance of knowledge transmission within Indigenous Peoples’ communities (e.g. between elders and youth, or between age and gender categories) is also important to the longevity and evolution of the science-policy interface.  In this regard, we also draw attention to the importance of Indigenous education systems, which promote learning and knowledge transmission on Indigenous Peoples’ knowledges and cultures. ‘Education’ is usually understood to mean ‘schooling’, and priority is often given to the voices of those that have higher levels of schooling and can thus converse more easily with western scientists – rather than those that have high levels of Indigenous education. The promotion of dominant educational models and participation of Indigenous children in formal schooling often undermines the transmission of Indigenous Peoples’ knowledge systems. The link between Indigenous education and the transmission and perpetuation of Indigenous Peoples’ knowledge systems should be fully recognized, and priority given to supporting those that have high levels of Indigenous education, even if they do not have high levels of schooling.

Diverse “formats/media” of knowledge must also be noted. For Indigenous Peoples, knowledge is often not written – but orally transmitted and/or performative, tied to specific places, things, experiences. Their knowledge systems are based on observations, know-how, local appropriate technologies, techniques, creation stories and ceremonial practices that they teach through storytelling, skits, popular folklore, songs, poems, art, dance, objects and artefacts, and during ceremonies (FAO, 2021). The strength of Indigenous Peoples’ knowledge in relation to the transformation towards more sustainable food systems lies in its local situatedness. 

Indigenous Peoples’ knowledge systems are bodies of science. Indigenous Peoples refine their knowledge systems through experimentation and accumulated observation of the environment, adjusting their responses over time. This has enabled Indigenous Peoples not only to understand natural cycles, weather patterns and wildlife behaviour but also to develop a day-to-day practical de facto experimentation based on this observation. Given their direct living and long-term exclusive interactions with their local ecosystems, Indigenous Peoples have developed abilities to know and understand their territories and resources as well as their functions and capacities. This final point of difference is perhaps most important in terms of identifying effective and sensitive food policy solutions. Acknowledging difference between different knowledge systems, as well as the local, cultural, spiritual, linguistic and cosmogonic aspects inherent to Indigenous Peoples’ knowledge systems, can still be of value to SPIs (FAO, 2021).

3. In order to make the guidance as concrete as possible, we are including numerous boxes/cases studies on real-life use cases. In this context, please contribute 300-450 words on examples, success stories or lessons learnt from countries that have/are strengthening SPIs for agrifood systems, including addressing asymmetries in power, collaboration across knowledge systems, connecting across scales, capacity development activities and fostering learning among SPIs.

Higher education institutions can play a key role in capacity development and collaboration across knowledge systems (Naepi, 2019). The Knowledge Makers Programme of Thompson Rivers University, Canada, is an example initiative that has successfully promoted Indigenous-led education, and imbued power and value to Indigenous Peoples’ knowledge. The Knowledge Makers programme began in 2016 and is a collaborative teaching initiative where Indigenous students learn how to research, and how to publish research, as Indigenous researchers. Based at Thompson Rivers University, The Knowledge Makers Programme bring together up to 20 Indigenous undergraduate students each year from across the university to learn how to ‘make knowledge’ through a multi-modal approach. The programme also boasts its own journal: the Knowledge Makers Journal is a peer-reviewed Indigenous interdisciplinary journal that showcases research from current and alumni Knowledge Makers, Indigenous staff, and Indigenous academics, along with ally scholars from Canada and internationally. For instance, the Knowledge Makers Programme has launched a special volume that included Indigenous students from the United States, Mexico, New Zealand and Australia. Since its establishment in 2016, over 100 articles have been published by Indigenous (mostly involving women) researchers. Most recently Knowledge Makers also completed a training program and launched a journal in collaboration with FAO that saw 16 Indigenous women from 16 different countries receive training and write up their research in their own volume of Knowledge Makers

4. Is there additional information that should be included? Are there any key references, publications, or traditional or different kind of knowledges, that are missing in the draft, and which should be considered?

The White/Wiphala paper on Indigenous Peoples’ food systems (FAO, 2021) may be usefully included within the guidance. The publication of The White/Wiphala Paper ahead of the UN Food Systems Summit in 2021 marked a pivotal moment for the inclusion of Indigenous Peoples’ knowledge within science-policy processes relating to food systems. The paper comprised more than 60 contributions from Indigenous and non-Indigenous experts from six out of the seven socio-cultural regions and sought to characterise Indigenous Peoples’ food systems, the ways that they support diverse and nutritious diets, support biodiversity conservation and climate change, and the drivers they face. The drafting of the paper was motivated by the apparent lack of recognition and inclusion of Indigenous Peoples within the Summit agenda – indeed, in the build-up to the summit, many Indigenous groups considered boycotting the Summit due to their perceived exclusion. The White/Wiphala Paper was eventually accepted by the UNFSS Scientific Group as a key reference text for the Summit. Indigenous Peoples were included on the agenda of the Summit and the Coalition on Indigenous Peoples’ Food Systems was formed as a direct outcome of the Summit. The paper is a concrete example of successful collaboration between diverse knowledge systems, and the ways in which such collaboration can enhance equitable dialogue within SPIs.

We are pleased to see the emphasis on finding common vocabulary and conceptual frameworks on pages 39-40. In this vein, we draw attention to the ongoing work of the Indigenous Peoples’ Unit in FAO to amend the AGROVOC to include Indigenous Peoples’ terminology. Together with Open Institute, FAO works with Indigenous Peoples in the Pacific, Latin America and Africa region in order to connect terms usually used in policy discussions together with Indigenous Peoples’ terms and cosmogonies. The overall objective is to acknowledge commonalities and differences in languages, concepts and their semantic spread amongst the 5000 Indigenous Peoples’ groups worldwide in order to bridge the gap of worldviews, and foster better informed policy-making. Furthermore, Indigenous Peoples speak 4 000 out of the 6 700 languages remaining worldwide (UNDPI, 2018). As identified in the FAO and Alliance of Bioversity International and CIAT publication “Indigenous Peoples’ food systems: insights of sustainability and resilience from the front line of climate change” (2021), there are numerous examples of Indigenous foods that are not identified by neither the dominant language in the country, nor the Linnaean scientific classification. The publication gathers the profiling of 8 Indigenous Peoples’ food systems conducted by and with Indigenous Peoples and organizations, universities. This further emphasize the need to include Indigenous Peoples as knowledge and right holders to any policy discussions, making and implementation that would impact their territories or food systems.

Emphasis could also be placed on the importance of generating data differentiated for Indigenous Peoples, Indigenous women and Indigenous youth globally. This will improve the generation of knowledge based on the diversity of populations in the world, specially to understand the impacts of agrifood systems in the nutrition and health of Indigenous Peoples. The report by Anderson et al (2016) found that for indicators of malnutrition and obesity, Indigenous children in 8 to 10 countries had worse status compared with non-Indigenous Peoples – however it also noted the severe paucity of data on Indigenous Peoples from which to draw such conclusions. Science-policy interfaces can only be enhanced based on the availability of comprehensive and representative data from all populations across the world.

In Box 10, the guidance may also refer to existing guidelines on good research practice engaging Indigenous Peoples, many of which have been developed by Indigenous Peoples themselves. Examples include that of the Inuit Circumpolar CouncilSecwepemc Nation and University of Saskatchewan. 

As example, the Andean Potato Park in Cusco, Peru, provides example of an evolutionary plant breeding site managed by Indigenous Peoples. This park is a centre of origin and domestication for crops such as potatoes, quinoa, and amaranth. The Quechua people of the park have developed a collective and customary governance structure that includes learning and exchange systems, seed banks, and more. They manage a rich diversity of underutilized species and varieties, including ancestral populations of crops, based on Indigenous Peoples’ knowledge, values, and worldviews (Swiderska and al., 2022).