Indigenous Peoples are the guardians of 80 percent of the Earth’s biodiversity, nevertheless their protective role is increasingly at risk due to climate change and the expansion of various industrial and commercial activities.
Based on traditional knowledge, Indigenous People’s food systems generate hundreds of food items from the environment without depleting natural resources and achieve high levels of self-sufficiency.
Indigenous Peoples’ practices link food generation and production activities to natural cycles enabling habitats to recover and allowing ecosystems to replenish themselves and provide fresh, nutritious and diverse foods.
Playing a vital function in conserving biodiversity, Indigenous People today offer powerful solutions for a sustainable development. But at the same time climate extremes, deforestation, intensive exploitation of natural resources and invasion of their territories combined with the recent COVID-19 pandemic are increasing the vulnerability of these guardians of Mother Nature.
To protect these fragile and precious assets for our future, it is crucial to guarantee indigenous and tribal communities access to land and resources.
In Venezuela, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) is supporting the Kariña People living in the Imataca Forest Reserve to implement a territorial management plan based on their right to self-determination, and to conserve the biodiversity of the area.
Imataca is an extensive tropical humid forest located in the southeast of Venezuela with an extraordinary biodiversity which is under constant threat of deforestation and mining. Badly affected by these practices Kariña people in 2016 decided to start a new plan so to have sustainable livelihoods by taking care of the natural reserve.
SOUNDBITE (Spanish) Cecilia Rivas, captain general of Imataca Forest Reserve Kariña communities: “We had conversations with our indigenous sisters and with indigenous brothers, and we said that if we were the owners, not owners, but those who live in this Imataca Forest Reserve, why we could not create our own company? It was also said that we should also request to the state or to the government to give us a space for us to work in our own way so that our environment is not destroyed”.
A key role was played by Kariña women that in 2013 had managed to elect a woman, Cecilia Rivas, as the first “captain”, namely community’s leader, overcoming gender inequalities in a group traditionally dominated by men.
Supported by FAO, Kariña women created a company called Tukupu in honour of a small, striped fish native to the forest that has been endangered by mining, indiscriminate logging and harmful forestry practices.
Once the company was founded, the Venezuelan government granted to the Kariña people 7,000 hectares of the Imataca Forest Reserve to co-manage, and FAO sustained the establishment of plantations on 1,400 hectares.
SOUNDBITE (Spanish) Cecilia Rivas, captain general of Imataca Forest Reserve Kariña communities: “Women are the ones who have the power right now here in the Botanamo community, because I think they have a lot of participation, they are interested. You call them and they are there.”
Today Kariña women and men are working for the Tukupu company to carry on restoration activities to revitalise areas which had been degraded by mining. Plants for reforestation are grown in hundreds of nurseries distributed throughout the communities. The company also improves soils and rivers to help revive the Tukupu fish population.
With the support of FAO, the communities have found new ways for the forest to provide for them. They are now rearing stingless bees for the production of honey and they have set up an indigenous market in Tumeremo, a town in the southern part of the country, to sell honey and other products, such as cassava and cassava bread.
Food Systems like Kariña’s one, with their capacity to generate food while protecting the environment, are considered strategic elements to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and FAO is working with indigenous communities around the world combining scientific research and traditional knowledge to identify innovative solutions.
In September Indigenous Peoples’ leaders will gather in New York for the United Nations Food Systems Summit to discuss about food systems, as part of the Decade of Action to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030. In preparation for this event they met in Rome at the Pre-Summit hosted in July 2021 at FAO.
SOUNDBITE (English) Yon Fernandez-de-Larrinoa, Head of the FAO Indigenous Peoples Unit: “What we are seeing in the research we are doing, in the evidence we are gathering from the field, all over the world in different Indigenous Peoples statistics is that they are game changers, they're sustainable, and they are resilient, and this is not just empty words, they've been practicing these indigenous food systems for hundreds of years, and they've been generating food without depleting the natural resource base for several years.”
However, the recent COVID-19 pandemic adds a new challenge for Indigenous Peoples by aggravating many existing inequalities, like poverty and discrimination, that were already affecting them.
SOUNDBITE (English) Yon Fernandez-de-Larrinoa, Head of the FAO Indigenous Peoples Unit:
“Many Indigenous Peoples have not been recognized to access health services, they've been neglected all the communication messages they have not been included in the campaigns, they have been discriminated in some countries, they've been driven away they've been signaled as responsible for this pandemic.”
COVID-19 is one of the threats that Indigenous Peoples are facing today: the continued reduction of the territories in which they live, deforestation, violence and climate change are all together putting their livelihoods progressively at risk.
SOUNDBITE (Spanish) Jessica Vega Ortega, Coordinator of the Global Indigenous Youth Caucus: “Indigenous peoples are not just experiencing this pandemic due to Covid-19, we are experiencing multiple pandemics, including violence to land tenure, security, peace, the increase in violence towards gender, but also the part of climate change that has affected the ways of producing and continuing with a life in harmony since, despite not being the greatest devastating of biodiversity, we are the ones who mostly experience the effects on the loss of the rivers of the lakes, including food.”
During the Rome Pre-Summit, the Indigenous leader made a call for immediate action to create a dedicated coalition on Indigenous Peoples’ food systems and for the creation of a fund to support their food systems, respect their right to land and resources, and support their ancestral knowledge that contribute to conserve biodiversity around the world.
SOUNDBITE (Spanish) Jessica Vega Ortega, Coordinator of the Global Indigenous Youth Caucus: “We urge governments, agencies and interested parties to join efforts to protect the Earth gives legal certainty to guarantee effective funds to develop capabilities, new technologies in combination with free prior and informed consultation.”
476.6 million Indigenous Peoples live in 90 countries around the world, 238.4 million of them are women. Their food systems are able to generate food while conserving 80% of the remaining biodiversity in the planet.
Asia and the Pacific is the region where the highest proportion of Indigenous Peoples live (70.5 per cent), followed by Africa (16.3 per cent), Latin America and the Caribbean (11.5 per cent), Northern America (1.6 per cent) and Europe and Central Asia (0.1 per cent).
In Latin America, Indigenous and tribal peoples are involved in the communal governance of between 320 and 380 million hectares of forests. More than 80% of the areas occupied by indigenous peoples are covered with forests and almost half (45%) of the remaining intact forests in the Amazon Basin are in indigenous territories.
August 9, is the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples, the 2021 theme is “Leaving no one behind: Indigenous peoples and the call for a new social contract.” The United Nations demand Indigenous Peoples’ inclusion, participation and approval in the constitution of a system with social and economic benefits for all.