Indigenous Peoples

Indigenous intergenerational knowledge exchange for food security at the CFS44

17/10/2017 - 

On the occasion of the 44th Session of the Committee on World Food Security (CFS), FAO and its partners organized the side event “An intergenerational knowledge exchange: indigenous forest management and food security in the context of climate change - Indigenous youth and elders present mechanisms for sustainable forestry and climate change adaptation”. 

The side event was organized in partnership with the Government of Norway and  the Government of Panama, the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII), the Fund for the Development of Indigenous Peoples of Latin America and the Caribbean (FILAC), the Global Indigenous Youth Caucus (GIYC), the International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs (IWGIA), the Mesoamerican Alliance of People and Forests (AMPB), and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) - UNREDD.

The side-event provided an opportunity for dialogue for indigenous representatives, UN Agencies, Country Representatives, Academic Institutions, Civil Society Organizations and indigenous issues experts. This dialogue was particularly timely following the issuance this year of the High Level Panel of Experts report on sustainable forestry for food security and nutrition, which was one of the focus areas during the CFS discussions. In this context, the discussion during the side event revolved around the importance of preserving the traditional knowledge that indigenous peoples have been keeping for generations as custodians of forests, as well as the practices for climate change adaptation and mitigation that they have developed, which can provide significant lessons in the pursuit of Sustainable Development Goal 2 – Zero Hunger.

Mariam Wallet Aboubakrine - Chair of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNFPII) - who also attended the whole week of the Committee on World Food Security, spoke about the role and knowledge of indigenous peoples and the importance of ensuring intergenerational exchanges and preserving traditional knowledge. Over time, the traditional knowledge developed and maintained in the context of ecosystem preservation, food systems and medicinal plants, to name but a few, has been critical for both indigenous communities and the ecosystems that they have inhabited. In fact, while representing only 22% of the world’s surface, indigenous peoples’ territories hold 80% of the remaining biodiversity of the planet. 

As explained by Marcial Arias Medina, Analyst from the Ministry of Environment in Panama “Traditional knowledge is important because the elders have a cosmovision of how the forests have to be managed, and it is through this knowledge that they have managed to preserve them up until now”. 

It is estimated that 200 million indigenous peoples depend primarily on natural forests for their livelihoods, particularly through hunting, gathering and shifting cultivation. It is therefore not surprising that they have devised ingenious ways of managing forests without depleting natural resources over the centuries. Now the challenge is preserving and passing on this knowledge in a context of major social, economic and environmental changes. 

However, inter and intra generational exchanges of knowledge are at risk. 

Migration from indigenous communities due to lack of education and employment opportunities, and loss of land are one of the main challenges that indigenous youth identified for the preservation of traditional knowledge. As explained by Q”apaj Conde, co-Chair of the Global Indigenous Youth Caucus, there is an increasing trend of urban migration from indigenous youth in search of opportunities. This increases the distance between elders and youth and results in a decline in the rate of transmission of traditional knowledge. This distance often results in marginalization and isolation, which can be linked to cases of self-harm and suicide among indigenous youth.

The interactive discussion with the panellists provided an opportunity to showcase different experiences of the adaptation of traditional knowledge to the current situation. For example, Sergio Raul Ortiz, from the Mesoamerican Alliance of People and Forests, shared his experience in merging the traditional knowledge with new technologies such as drones to monitor indigenous forests and territories in Guatemala. 

Edmond Dounias, Representative to Indonesia and Timor Leste of the French National Research Institute for Sustainable Development (IRD), highlighted the importance of complementing inter-generational transmission between elders and children with intra-generational transmission between children in hunter-gatherers societies, as both vertical and horizontal transmissions are essential to the preservation of knowledge and know-how. These mechanisms, along with language preservation, need support through the formal education systems. 

In this context, Inge Nordang, Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Norway to the UN organizations in Rome invited Governments to take a proactive approach and work hand in hand with indigenous peoples “Governments must respond to these challenges by shaping public policies and legislation that harmonizes with indigenous knowledge and practices”.

Access the photos of the event here.