Indigenous Food Systems: Key to Feed Humankind

In a recent work-shop by IIED and the Royal-Botanic Garden, Kew examined the food growing and consuming methods of indigenous peoples to help mankind fight “insufficient food” war using these natural food systems.

Modern-food and farming system is inherently unstable. They account for about one-third of global greenhouse gas emissions and nearly 60% of global biodiversity losses. They lead to the deterioration of the natural resources like water, soil, and genetic resource, necessary for the sustainability of agricultural and food production.

Modern food system (PDF) is also highly unfair, as power and wealth have been overtaken by a few people and companies.

Zero Hunger Goal

Despite higher yields, food insecurity has increased very much in recent times. More than 820-million people are starving and 2-billion people are unsafe regarding food availability. This underlines the great challenge for the 2nd sustainable-development-goals (SDG) in achieving zero-hunger by the year 2030.

The food system of 476-million indigenous people is currently labeled “backward” or unproductive, but the evidence suggests that they are highly sustainable, equitable, and productive. These food systems preserve rich bio-diversity, high nutritious food production, resistance to climate change, and are low in carbon emission. According to FAO, the indigenous people are already achieving “Zero Hunger” among their people.

Health Harmony and Indigenous Systems

The study also showed that native people with traditional activities in remote areas and little dependence on market economies tended to be of normal weight, which supports these food systems to be a better nutritious and healthy way to food insecurity.

Many neglected and underutilized primary species of crops that are cultivated by indigenous people are rich in nutrients. In contrast, indigenous people who have switched to a modern diet are facing increasing health problems (such as -obesity and -diabetes).

These food systems also play a crucial role in facilitating a broader transition to a sustainable and unbiassed food system.

Several Sustainable-Development Goals

Earlier in October 2020, tribal peoples from Africa, Asia, Latin-America, and the Arctics, academic institutes, and UN-agencies participated in a virtual work-shop hosted by IIED and Kew to examine the part of indigenous food-system and inter-related relationship among biological, cultural, and bio-cultural heritage.

Representatives of indigenous people emphasized that their inherited food-system, founded under centuries of wisdom, is crucial not only for food security and food sovereignty but also for cultural and spiritual well-being and sustainable usage of land resources. About 80% of the world’s biodiversity is under indigenous population and signifies the world’s most cultural diversity.

Role of Indigenous Systems in COVID-19

Many indigenous people are revitalizing their agroecological food systems because they are more resistant to changing climate and offer a surplus nutritious diet than modern food systems. And they were shown to be of vital importance throughout the COVID-19 pandemic that exposed the susceptibility of worldwide food webs.

Attendees of the workshop heard about the indigenous seeds in Kenya, considered sacred by the Taraka-tribe, which helped in reducing the effect of COVID-19 by encouraging social unity through cultural ceremonies. In Peru, the Potato-Park, a bio-cultural heritage of Quechua, donated a ton of potatoes to the needy in the city of Cuzco during the COVID-19 crisis.

Natural Stability

In a live broadcast from the high Andes, the Quechua peoples, in Potato-Park clarified about their food systems that-how they represent food security despite climatic changes, and how the traditional values ​​of unity, reciprocity, and balance maintain an exceptionally high diversity among potatoes. Not only do they grow local and traditional crops adapted to local conditions, but they also grow food from wild relatives of plants that indigenous people from Peru – Philippines used to enrich their native plants.

Indigenous members also emphasized the economical-importance of their food system. In Chad, pastoralism accounts for around 40% of GDP, in Kenya, COVID-19 is helping to revitalize traditional food, and in the Potato-Park, people have created a number of micro-businesses, medicinal projects, traditional restaurants, eco-tourism, etc, that generate income to support the poor people.

Threats

However, the work-shop contributors acknowledged many challenges to native food systems, -the rapid loss of ancient knowledge and the devastating effects of strategies and programs indorsing industrial agriculture. Indigenous populations are largely excluded from political debates and are exposed to widespread marginalization and racial discrimination.

Catastrophe to recognize native populations’ rights to natural resources and land poses a serious threat to their food systems. In northern Thailand, local Karen farmers can be jailed for rotation farming, although researchers have shown the method to be sustainable, rich in biodiversity, and important to food security. In north-eastern India, forestry rules that limit the use of indigenous Lepcha-forests are undermining species-rich food systems that are rich in biodiversity and making the transition to cash crops easier.

In Chad, the land is being sold that is vital to the maintenance of viable and bio-diverse feeding systems for pastoralists, while in the Russian Arctic, industrial development has nearly devastated the traditional fishing and hunting food culture essential for survival.

Indigenous Research Should Part of 2021 Summit

Immediate research is currently needed to address the threats and challenges to indigenous food systems. Research that recognizes indigenous populations as experts, values ​​their knowledge and science, should be carried out by indigenous peoples and should be based on multiple disciplines. Researches should focus on the protection of indigenous peoples’ rights to land and resources. Preservation of endangered agrobiodiversity and indigenous knowledge, exploration of the role and health of women.

Agricultural, forestall and economical policies should be reformed by the Governments and UN agencies, which threats the food systems of these people. These reforms should be done by letting the indigenous peoples actively participate in them. These people should also take part in the preparatory processes of UN-Summit on Food Systems 2021.

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*Photo is Taken From Daily Times.

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