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Indigenous foods for future generations

7 reasons why Indigenous Food Systems can contribute to mitigating to climate change !

05/08/2019 - 

Over centuries, indigenous peoples have devised ingenious and dynamic ways of managing their constantly evolving territories that have allowed them to inhabit the same land and preserve the natural resources making them available for future generations.

Today there are more than 370 million indigenous people, speaking more than 4000 languages and living in 90 countries across the world. 

However, nowadays indigenous peoples are in the frontline of the worst impacts of climate change as they live in climate change exposed ecosystems such as the artic, low-lying islands, tropical forests or high mountains. 

The first High Level Expert Seminar on Indigenous Food Systems held in FAO Rome (2018), showcased in a systemic way the intimate relationships between language, knowledge, traditional practices, territorial management, ecosystems and indigenous food systems. When one element in the system is altered, there are side effects in the rest of elements and overall in the system itself. When not properly managed, some changes result in forced migration, displacement, loss of the natural resource base and environmental degradation.

FAO joined forces with indigenous peoples, universities and international organizations, such as Bioversity International, the Centre for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), the Indigenous Partnership for Agrobiodiversity and Food Sovereignty, the French National Research Institute for Sustainable Development (IRD), to create the first Global Hub on Indigenous Food Systems.

“This will be a dialogue space to exchange information and mobilize resources for documentation, knowledge generation and research on indigenous food systems to contribute to the global discussion on how to enhance sustainable food systems and how to mitigate climate change effects”, said Yon Fernández de Larrinoa, FAO Indigenous Peoples Team Leader.

In addition, FAO with the support of a scientific and indigenous editorial board is working on the publication of a two-year research of 9 indigenous food systems at the local level and from across the world. The results are expected to provide evidence of the significant roles that indigenous food systems and traditional knowledge have in halting many global issues we face today.

Learn 7 reasons why indigenous peoples are FAO’s key allies to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals

1.Biodiversity. While indigenous ancestral territories encompass only 22 percent of the land’s surface, they host 80 percent of the planet’s biological diversity, making indigenous peoples important custodians of ecosystems, and natural resources. Along with biological diversity, the cultural diversity of indigenous peoples is consubstantial of overall biodiversity.


2.Ancestral knowledge. Indigenous peoples’ ancestral knowledge is accumulated and recombined for hundreds of years of observation, trial, error, modification and exchange, passed from parents to children through oral communication and storytelling. When an indigenous peoples food system and its traditional knowledge is lost, is like a library with millennial knowledge that is burnt.


3.Indigenous Food Systems. Indigenous food systems are integrated systems that include biodiversity (animals, plants and human beings), food, medicine, spirituality, and environmental and territorial management. Through indigenous eyes, this biocentric perspective can provide answers to some of the main global challenges we face today, including climate adaptation and mitigation.


4.Indigenous Youth. Indigenous Youth are the fundamental link to ensure the transmission of knowledge. Indigenous youth met in FAO in April 2017 and released the Rome Declaration on Indigenous Youth. They requested FAO to open a line of work on traditional knowledge and climate change. The correct blend of traditional knowledge with state of the art technology and internet is one of their priorities. The successful protection of tropical forests in Panama is a good example.


5.Indigenous Women. Half of the world’s indigenous population are women. Indigenous women are raise livestock, farm, fish and hunt to gather food for their communities. They are also considered guardians of seeds and medicinal plants. However, too often they have not seen respected their human and collective rights.  As part of the FAO’s Global Campaign for the Empowerment of Indigenous Women, indigenous women from all over the world have sent messages to raise awareness on their contribution to food security, not just for their communities but to the whole world. Listen to them here and join the #IndigenousWomen Campaign here! 


6.Indigenous peoples’ rights.  The eradication of hunger and poverty, and the sustainable use of the environment depends in large measure on how communities gain access to land, halieutic resources and forests. Indigenous peoples right’s to land, territories and natural resources and indigenous peoples’ right to food are collective rights and are extremely related to the right to determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development. This why any actions that may impact indigenous peoples lives, rights and development should be adhere to the principle to Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC). Learn more about Free, Prior and Consent.  


7.Indigenous languages. Languages play a crucial role in the daily lives of indigenous peoples, not only as a tool for communication, education, social integration and development, but also as a repository for each person’s unique identity and for each community’s cultural history which includes its own food system. Despite their immense value, languages around the world continue to disappear.  FAO is supporting the 2019 UN International Year of Indigenous Languages promoted by UNESCO. Join them!