Contribution from the Global-Hub on Indigenous Peoples’ Food Systems.
Analysis of the complexities and practical problems associated with science-policy interfaces
- Do you have an understanding of how agrifood systems policy is enacted in your country or at the regional or international levels?
- Are you aware of opportunities to contribute science, evidence and knowledge to policy at national, regional or global levels?
In 2021 during the UN Food Systems Summit, the Global-Hub on Indigenous Peoples’ Food Systems together with many Indigenous Peoples from across the world contributed to the global debate on sustainable food systems, highlighting how their knowledge systems could inform the global debate on sustainable food systems. This was achieved through the coordination of the writing of the White/Wiphala paper on Indigenous Peoples’ Food Systems that compiles 60 contributions from Indigenous and non-Indigenous experts from 6 of the 7 socio-cultural regions. The paper played a fundamental role in the recognition by the international scientific community of Indigenous Peoples’ food and knowledge systems, and their role in the sustainability and climate resilience.
The Global-Hub has contributed to the several consultations:
- “Reducing inequalities for food security and nutrition”, HLPE report to be presented at the 51st plenary session of the CFS in October 2023; The Global-Hub commented on the scope of the report, and on the V0 of the report.
- “Data collection and analysis tools for food security and nutrition”, HLPE report presented on the 50th plenary session of the CFS.
- A/HRC/51/28: Indigenous Women and the development, application, preservation and transmission of scientific and technical knowledge, report of the Special Rapporteur on the rights of Indigenous Peoples.
- What kind of knowledge and evidence is privileged in such processes?
- What are the strengths and weaknesses of the processes you are aware of?
Despite those great achievements, Indigenous Peoples’ knowledge systems, still remain often relegated to the lowest level of hierarchies of evidence (Global-Hub on Indigenous Peoples’ Food Systems, 2021). There are still several barriers for Indigenous Peoples’ knowledge systems to be fully considered as a valid source of evidence for policy making. Three of them are identified and described below:
- Indigenous Peoples’ knowledge systems can be unknown to the dominant academic system
Indigenous Peoples’ knowledge systems are based on observations, know-how, local appropriate technologies, techniques, creation stories and ceremonial practices. Indigenous Peoples’ knowledge is likely not found in written publications. It is rather mainly oral and transmitted within Indigenous communities for millennia through storytelling, skits, popular folklore, songs, poems, art, dance, objects and artefacts, and during ceremonies. In this context, it constitutes a body of knowledge that is pluralistic, linked to the local ecosystems, the culture, the values, the languages, the spirituality and the cosmogony of Indigenous Peoples. It is therefore not possible to consider Indigenous Peoples’ knowledge systems in dissociation with the people who generated and maintained the knowledge through time, and associated with this, their culture, language, and ecosystem in which they live.
Unless shared by Indigenous Peoples themselves, Indigenous Peoples’ knowledge and innovations often remain de facto unknown and hardly accessible by the scientific community.
- Indigenous Peoples’ knowledge systems are often misunderstood and relegated to the lowest level of hierarchies of evidence
Indigenous Peoples’ knowledge systems are often regarded as un- or less scientific, anecdotal, and inapplicable to and/or incapable of addressing emerging global challenges because of their common characteristics of being based on accumulated observations of local phenomena, often held in oral rather than written forms, and holistic rather than specialist. On the contrary, dominant scientific knowledge is written (mostly in English), can be stored and analysed, and has historically been conceived as universal knowledge that can be transported and usefully applied in multiple and diverse contexts (Global-Hub on Indigenous Peoples’ Food Systems, 2021).
As a result, there are countless historical examples whereby dominant science and technologies have been privileged over traditional knowledge systems, resulting in the top-down implementation of irrelevant, contextually inappropriate and ineffective policy solutions that have exacerbated social disparities and social exclusion (Global-Hub on Indigenous Peoples’ Food Systems, 2021). Despite well-intended, several development policies have failed to reach Indigenous Peoples through not having taken account of Indigenous Peoples' perceptions of well-being and what they themselves deem as necessary to improve their status.
Indigenous Peoples holds the traditional knowledge that they have developed for millennia to ensure their survival and the sustainability of their food systems and livelihoods. It is an element of proof showing the sustainability and resilience of their food systems. Indigenous Peoples have demonstrated their capacity to innovate through time, while adapting the ever-changing environmental conditions in their territory, and sometimes shocks. Undervaluing Indigenous Peoples’ knowledge systems disregards this strong adaptation capacity of Indigenous Peoples, while ability to maintain a rich biodiversity on their territories.
- Indigenous Peoples lack recognition as knowledge holders.
In this context, traditional knowledge of Indigenous Peoples constitutes a body of knowledge that is pluralistic, linked to the ecosystems, the culture, the values, the languages, the spirituality and the cosmogony of Indigenous Peoples. It is not possible to consider Indigenous Peoples’ knowledge systems in dissociation with the people who generated and maintained the knowledge through time.
Recognizing that Indigenous Peoples are knowledge holders is the pre-requisite in policy-making that could affect them. In addition, Indigenous Peoples have rights that pertain to them. Their knowledge systems are associated to a bundle of rights for which Indigenous Peoples have fought for several decades. In particular the right to self-determined economic, social and cultural development as per the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and the right to free, prior and informed consent as per the ILO Convention 169. As a recommendation, the inclusion of Indigenous Peoples in policy-making should be go beyond participation. It should rather ensure full ownership on their knowledge and data for innovation by them and for them or others (with their consent). This is a concern and a request that Indigenous Peoples have made in many occurrences, not only when it comes to policy-making, but also when it comes to knowledge preservation or co-creation with other actors.
However despite those challenges, the recognition of Indigenous Peoples’ traditional knowledge systems is not new. There has long been acknowledgement that Indigenous Peoples are well placed to provide expert contributions to global debates on sustainable food systems. The increasing recognition of Indigenous Peoples’ knowledge and perspective in global assessments produced by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), confirm this trend (Global-Hub on Indigenous People’ Food Systems, 2021).
- What opportunities and challenges have you faced for drawing from sustainability science, interdisciplinarity and transdisciplinarity to inform policy?
- How can power asymmetries among stakeholders be taken effectively into account in science-policy processes?
There is an urgent need to acknowledge Indigenous Peoples as both knowledge and right holders.
Indigenous Peoples’ rights are framed in international frameworks. The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples affirms the rights to self-determined economic, social and cultural development, the right to food and the right to free, prior and informed consent as per the ILO convention 169 on Indigenous and Tribal Peoples.
Indigenous peoples have experienced violation of their rights for centuries, in particular through the extraction of their knowledge. Use of plants and animals traditionally held by Indigenous Peoples by the pharmaceutic industry is a well-known example. Practically, the principle of co-creation of knowledge needs to be implemented, from the design of research methodologies, to the use and ownership of results and data in accordance with their own traditional governance systems.
Co-creation of knowledge needs to be at the center, ensuring that knowledge systems are considered with same level of respect and consideration. On the one hand, too often Indigenous Peoples have seen their knowledge extracted for commercial purpose without their consent. On the other hand, too often Indigenous Peoples have been imposed innovations from other dominant actors denying their traditional knowledge systems and practices.
Knowledge production for policy
- What actions do you take to align your research to problems and challenges faced by agrifood systems?
- In what ways are the research questions in your sphere of work framed by academic interests and/or funders’ focus?
- To what extent do you feel research and policy-making communities in your sphere of work are united in their understanding of the challenges facing agrifood systems?
- To what extent do you work across disciplines and/or draw on expertise from academic and non-academic actors including Indigenous Peoples and small-scale producers?
- To what extent, and in what ways, is your research co-produced with other knowledge holders and non-academic-stakeholders important for informing policy in agrifood systems?
Knowledge translation for policy making
- To what extent does your organization/university support you to produce and disseminate knowledge products to a range of audiences?
- How does it create/maintain institutional linkages between producers and users of research? Describe any dedicated resources for knowledge translation that are in place.
- Please describe any incentives or rewards in place for effective, sustained policy engagement, for example successfully conducting policy-relevant research and for its dissemination.
- Please tell us about any activities that you or your organization / university engage in to collate evidence for policy, such as evidence synthesis activities, or guideline development.
- Do you or your organization / university engage in processes to build evidence into agrifood policy processes such as government consultations, government knowledge management systems, digital decision-support systems, web portals, etc.? Please tell us more.
- Do you or your organization / university contribute to efforts to ensure that evidence is provided for policy making which is grounded in an understanding of a national (or sub-national) contexts (including time constraints), demand-driven, and focused on contextualizing the evidence for a given decision in an equitable way? If so, please tell us more.
- What makes evidence credible, relevant and legitimate to different audiences, and how might we balance their different requirements?
- How can evidence be assessed in a rigorous, transparent and neutral manner?
- How can assessments of evidence best be communicated to all stakeholders?
- Please share any examples of how the science, evidence and knowledge generated through your work or the work of your organization / university has subsequently fed into decision-making.
The White/Wiphala paper on Indigenous Peoples’ Food Systems played a fundamental role in the recognition by the international scientific community of Indigenous Peoples’ food and knowledge systems, and their role in the sustainability and climate resilience. It has been pivotal towards in the creation of the Coalition on Indigenous Peoples’ Food Systems as one of the outcomes of the UN Food Systems Summit. The paper compiles 60 contributions from Indigenous and non-Indigenous experts from 6 of the 7 socio-cultural regions. On the occasion of the publication of the White/Wiphala paper, the Global-Hub organized an exchange of knowledge with the Scientific Group of the UN Food Systems Summit, and in presence of the FAO Chief Scientist, and FAO Chief Economist.
The Global-Hub on Indigenous Peoples’ Food Systems is currently coordinating the drafting of a new collective paper on Indigenous Peoples’ mobile livelihoods and collective rights to their territories, lands, waters, and natural resources. Similarly to the white/wiphala paper, the collective paper will compiles contributions from Indigenous and non-Indigenous experts from across the world.
The Global-Hub is planning to organize two other exchanges of knowledge:
- In March 2023, in the frame of the working session organized by the FAO division on Inclusive Rural Transformation and Gender Equality Division (ESP) on Shaping priorities for investment in Resilient, Inclusive Rural Transformation (RITI). The exchange of knowledge will focus on Indigenous Peoples and indicators of poverty;
- during the first trimester of 2023, with the High-Level Panel of Experts (HLPE) of the Committee on World Food Security (CFS) to share perspective on the contributions Indigenous Peoples’ knowledge systems could bring to the global debate on sustainable food systems.
The Global-Hub on Indigenous Peoples’ Food Systems. Rethinking hierarchies of evidence for sustainable food systems. Nat Food 2, 843–845 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1038/s43016-021-00388-5
 Recommendations expressed by Indigenous leaders during the 2021 UN Food Systems Summit, and based on the White/Wiphala paper on Indigenous Peoples’ food systems. See also the Indigenous Peoples Rome Declaration on the Arctic Region Fisheries and Environment, the final report of the 2018 High-Level Expert Seminar on Indigenous Peoples’ food systems, and many other examples.