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Indigenous Peoples

Indigenous Peoples play a central role in protecting biodiversity and generating livelihoods. Even though they protect 80 percent of the world's biodiversity,  this has yet to be translated into improved situations for Indigenous Peoples.

FAO promotes policies that recognize the value of Indigenous Peoples’ traditional knowledge, food systems, and territorial management practices for achieving the SDGs.

Indigenous Peoples continue to face disproportionate challenges in their struggle to conserve their traditional practices, which not only make it difficult to feed their communities, but also make it harder to protect biodiversity – an essential component for agriculture and food production.

FAO recognizes Indigenous Peoples as key allies to achieve the SDGs. The organization supports governments to develop national frameworks that ensure the recognition and respect of Indigenous Peoples’ collective and individual rights – for instance by providing technical assistance to governments and Indigenous Peoples and empowering Indigenous leaders to participate in decision-making processes.

Key policy messages

·        The systematic lack of recognition of Indigenous Peoples’ individual and collective rights. Indigenous Peoples are not vulnerable populations per se. For thousands of years, they have managed their territories and natural resources, generating food and livelihoods in harmony with nature. However, the lack of recognition and protection of their rights, particularly their rights to self-identification and collective tenure rights, place them in situations of increased vulnerability, poverty, food insecurity, displacement, and conflict. Since 2014, FAO has a dedicated team (upgraded to a Unit in 2019) to coordinate FAO’s work with Indigenous Peoples. FAO Indigenous Peoples Unit work plan was drafted together with a Caucus of Indigenous Peoples’ representatives from the seven sociocultural regions in 2015. FAO provides technical assistance to Governments for building appropriate public policies to support Indigenous Peoples’ development and food security, respecting their rights. For instance, FAO provided technical assistance for the development of the National Plan of Indigenous Peoples of the Government of El Salvador (2017) and Paraguay (2021).

·        Indigenous Peoples’ food systems are changing at an extraordinary rate and are at risk of disappearing. Without appropriate policy interventions, Indigenous Peoples’ food systems risk disappearing. Commercial market pressures, climate change, and external actors encroaching on Indigenous Peoples’ territories and ancestral lands are transforming their food systems at significant rates. These developments are causing the largest, long-lasting, and in some cases irreversible effects on the continuity and sustainability of the Indigenous Peoples’ food systems. To increase the recognition of Indigenous Peoples’ Food Systems FAO, in partnership with The Alliance of Bioversity International and the International Center for Tropical Agriculture, and in collaboration with other organizations, developed a research and participatory methodology to profile Indigenous Peoples’ food systems worldwide, identifying their main sustainable and resilience elements. In 2020, FAO members endorsed the creation of the Global-Hub on Indigenous Peoples’ Food Systems at the Technical Committee on Agriculture (COAG) to bridge the gap between policy-makers, researchers and Indigenous Peoples’ knowledge systems. The Global-Hub collectively drafted the White/Wiphala Paper on Indigenous Peoples’ food systems with inputs from 60 individuals and 39 Indigenous and academic organizations from the six socio-cultural regions of the world. The White/Wiphala Paper shows that Indigenous Peoples’ food systems can contribute to debates on sustainable food systems, biodiversity conservation, climate change mitigation, restoration and resilience.

·        Climate change has been an ongoing struggle for Indigenous Peoples for the past decades. In the past, the dynamism of their territorial management techniques allowed Indigenous Peoples to adjust to changing migratory patterns and climate variations. However, current situations and pressures pose significant challenges for Indigenous Peoples and are increasingly difficult to counteract. In addition, the increasing competition for natural resources has intensified pressure from other actors and interests in Indigenous Peoples’ territories. This increasing competition is leading to a rise in violence and criminalization against Indigenous leaders defending their natural resources and lands. In addition, COVID-19 is affecting Indigenous Peoples disproportionately, jeopardizing their ways of life and their existence. FAO has issued a statement and a policy brief with recommendations and actions to ensure the cultural and physical survival of Indigenous Peoples. FAO works with Indigenous Peoples from the seven socio-cultural regions to ensure they are included in the global debate and in the formulation of policies on climate change and biodiversity conservation, among other topics.

·        Respecting Indigenous Peoples’ governance systems. Indigenous Peoples have traditional governance systems and complex institutional structures that rule their societies, issue norms and resolve conflicts. FAO calls for governments to respect and protect Indigenous Peoples’ governance systems and approaches through multiple avenues, including respecting of the right to Free Prior and Informed Consent in all activities and projects that could affect Indigenous Peoples. Since 2015, FAO included the Free, Prior and Informed Consent as a compulsory step in its project cycle and safeguards for any project involving Indigenous Peoples. Furthermore, FAO ensures the participation of Indigenous Peoples’ representatives – chosen by Indigenous Peoples themselves – at policy dialogues to guarantee an inclusive decision-making process of their concern. 

·        Indigenous Women and Indigenous Youth are key allies to achieve SDGs. It is fundamental to recognize and make Indigenous Women's social and economic roles visible to achieve food security. Indigenous Women are food producers, guardians of native seeds and custodians of traditional knowledge. Integrating gender and Indigenous Peoples' dimensions in public policy are fundamental to achieving the SDGs. Since 2015, FAO and Indigenous Peoples' organizations have implemented the Indigenous Women Leadership School program to support Indigenous Women's engagement in policy discussions. Further in 2018, the Global Campaign for the Empowerment of Indigenous Women for Zero Hunger has generated strong ownership amongst Indigenous Women's organizations, which have replicated the campaign worldwide. Furthermore, it is critical to acknowledge, value, and adequately address the role of Indigenous Youth in implementing the 2030 Development Agenda. Indigenous Youth's role cannot be understated in the context of Indigenous Peoples' identities, preservation of Indigenous Peoples' traditional knowledge and languages, poverty reduction, rights to land, territories and resources, access and protection of their Indigenous food systems, and their rights to self-determination towards sustainable development.

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