The Right to Food

Ensuring indigenous peoples´ right to food is paramount in the fight against COVID-19

News - 09.08.2020

9 August 2020, Rome- COVID-19 is particularly affecting the food security and nutrition of different populations who were already facing inequalities, discrimination, marginalization, lack of recognition and invisibility, including indigenous peoples. This combination is likely to worsen the situations of vulnerability in which many indigenous peoples were before COVID-19, exposing them now to higher impacts from the pandemic’s health and socioeconomic effects. Indeed, although indigenous peoples make up 6.2% of the global population, they account for almost 20% of the poor in the world.

”Indigenous peoples’ right to food depends directly on the recognition and respect for their livelihoods, indigenous food systems and traditional knowledge, which are firmly rooted in their collective rights to ancestral lands, territories and natural resources”, highlighted Yon Fernández de Larrinoa, Head of the FAO Indigenous Peoples Unit.

The pandemic is threatening indigenous peoples´ ability to access food and health supplies, as well as their resilience and adaptation skills. Indigenous peoples from different regions have identified hunger as the main effect of the COVID-19 crisis. Food shortages are resulting from the combined effects of isolation, remoteness, the lockdown, the disruption of trade and of the agri-food value chains, and the suspension of income generating activities.

Indigenous peoples are not vulnerable per se. For thousands of years they have managed their territories in ways that have allowed them to preserve their natural resources and make them available for future generations. But their right to food depend on the effective realization of other basic human rights, human rights that in the case of indigenous peoples are often not recognized, specially self-identification, self-determined development, collective tenure rights and free prior and informed consent. This breach of indigenous peoples´ rights, places them in situations of vulnerability, marginalization and discrimination.

In times of COVID-19, it is even more necessary to hear the voices of all human groups and cultures in order to tailor measures that based on diversity, can help overcoming the present situation. “If responses to COVID exclude indigenous peoples, countries will encounter a major problem in view of realizing their right to food”, said Juan Carlos García y Cebolla, FAO Right to Food Team Leader. He stressed that policy processes that consider the needs of indigenous peoples and encourage greater participation offer better chances to eliminate hunger.

“The preservation of indigenous peoples´ food systems is key to strengthen indigenous peoples’ resilience and food security”, mentioned Myrna Cunningham, Chair of the Fund for the Development of the Indigenous Peoples of Latin America and the Caribbean (FILAC), during the Webinar COVID-19 and Indigenous Peoples, hosted by FAO.

Timely recommendations for the realization of the right to food

Adopted by the FAO Council in 2004, the CFS-Right to Food Guidelines help ensure the human right to adequate food is not a distant objective while facing the COVID-19 pandemic and its consequences in the short, medium and long term.

This practical tool explains what needs to be done in all of the most relevant policy areas to promote food security using a human rights-based approach. It refers to indigenous peoples in the context of access to resources and assets, financial resources or international food aid. Guideline 10 highlights the cultural aspect of nutrition, which is very important because “food” is indispensable to shaping indigenous peoples´ lives and identities, while Guideline 8.1 portrays the intrinsically nexus for indigenous peoples and pastoralists between land, natural resources, territory and livelihoods and their right to food.

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