They have an unparalleled understanding of sustainable food and farming, but often their value is ignored and their existence threatened. Slow Food is working to give indigenous communities a voice
As the international community strives towards the future we want: “a world that is just, equitable and inclusive” (Outcome Document of the UN Conference on Sustainable Development held in Rio de Janeiro, 20-22 June 2012), it is critical to recognize that there are still many communities and ecological practices that remain overlooked.
Guardians of knowledge
Indigenous peoples hold unique knowledge about sustainable, community-level and culture-based food and agricultural activities. They are also constantly adapting to new opportunities and threats. Today, much of the world’s remaining bio-cultural diversity is concentrated on their lands. Regretfully however, their ecological practices (such as swidden agriculture, pastoralism and selection of socially relevant local crops and livestock breeds) are not understood by many mainstream development workers and researchers, and are often undervalued, even threatened, by some national governments. A transition to more sustainable, inclusive and ecological approaches, that can meet the livelihood and food security needs of all, requires bringing these marginalized guardians to center stage.
In the past few decades, a number of development agencies, foundations, advocacy groups and social movements have started to pay greater attention to the agro-ecological activities of indigenous communities and express concern about the loss of their knowledge, culture and practices. Certain indigenous groups have had the opportunity to join regional, global or thematic networks and social movements as active participants. However, in these essentially non-indigenous environments, it doesn’t always come naturally for indigenous members to speak about their ecological practices and experiences; perhaps a legacy of their historical marginalization. There is therefore an urgent need to connect all such indigenous groups and empower them to showcase their stewardship role in promoting agro-biodiversity to local, regional and global audiences.
I am very pleased that Slow Food has a vision to give voice to indigenous communities and showcase the different ways they use agro-ecological practices for the pleasure, well-being and food security of all. It is also very encouraging to see that Slow Food is providing an opportunity for indigenous communities to form an indigenous network within the Slow Food and Terra Madre network. This network will help to reaffirm the identity they derive from their local food practices, which, when carried out responsibly and respectfully, protect the local environment, defend their lands and territories, and enable adaptation to climate change. We hope that this evolving indigenous network will help Slow Food to identify leverage points for guiding agricultural research, policy and advocacy institutions; as well as lead to the recognition of indigenous peoples as important knowledge holders and allies in efforts to make current agriculture and food systems more sustainable and “just, equitable and inclusive”.