August 9 was International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples. This year’s theme is Indigenous Peoples and Education to highlight the importance of education and preserving indigenous knowledge.
Around the world, many indigenous people cannot access the basic right to education. Their traditional methods of teaching, learning, and cultivating food are not always respected by education systems and teachers.U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon explains that “their history, traditions, languages, and knowledge are part of the very bedrock of human heritage. Indigenous peoples can teach the world about sustainable lifestyles and living in harmony with nature.
According to the United Nations, traditional knowledge is “the knowledge, innovations, and practices of indigenous and local communities around the world.” Indigenous people represent more than 370 million people and have more than 5,000 languages and cultures in different ecosystems around the world.
In 2007, the General Assembly adopted the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. The declaration highlights their rights to build political, economic, and social systems, and participate in economic and traditional activities.
Many indigenous people are struggling to preserve their knowledge and traditions.Traditional knowledge is passed down from generation to generation. Unfortunately, there are growing pressures to the environment and the ecosystems on which indigenous peoples depend.
“Indigenous people cannot access important natural resources they used to enjoy, such as traditional foods and medicines, adequate water supply, game meat, and honey, due to excessive exploitations of the habitats,” says Joseph Goko Mutangah of the Kenya Resource Center for Indigenous Knowledge.
By preserving the knowledge and increasing access to information, new and innovative solutions can be developed to improve food security and prevent environmental degradation in indigenous communities, according to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization.
For example, in Soroti, Uganda, farmers are using indigenous knowledge to grow crops. According to the World Food Programme, food security has improved and non-governmental organizations have stopped distributing food to households in the area.
“We are finding that where traditional knowledge is being revived, food security outcomes are better,” says Dr. Jagjit Plahe, convenor of Monash University’s food security group.
And in Canada, indigenous peoples are using food to preserve local traditions. According to Kiku Dhanwant, the Learning Circle coordinator at Farm to Cafeteria Canada, people can learn about their traditions and culture when they eat traditional foods from their communities. “That is why we need to shift the culture back to a place where people are growing, harvesting, preserving, eating, and sharing local foods through school food programs…It’s just going back to what we know and getting the kids on board,” says Dhanwant.
Many organizations around the globe are working to promote indigenous knowledge in the food system. Here are some of these initiatives:
1. Articulação Pacari (Brazil)
This network works with medicinal plant producers and local health practitioners to develop policies that protect traditional health practices in Brazil. Currently, there are no governmental policies that recognize traditional health practices in the country. The initiative collaborates with traditional pharmacies and community-based organizations to produce medicinal plants and maintain traditional knowledge and health practices in these indigenous communities.
2. First Peoples Worldwide (Virginia, United States)
First Peoples Worldwide is an indigenous-led organization that provides funding for indigenous communities around the world. It was created in 1997 to support local initiatives and encourage the use of indigenous knowledge. One of the projects funded by First Peoples Worldwide is to improve access to farming technologies and promote traditional farming practices in Kamboma, Sierra Leone. The organization works with members of the community to support the agricultural sector.
3. Indigenous Carbon Farming Fund (Australia)
The Indigenous Carbon Farming Fund is a program organized by the Australian Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population, and Communities. The government will give US$22.3 million over five years to indigenous and Torres Strait Islander people to help them participate in the Carbon Farming Initiative. The Carbon Farming Initiative aims to support indigenous landholders who participate in projects designed to decrease emissions in the country.
4. Indigenous Farming Project (California, United States)
The Indigenous Farming Project is an initiative that encourages indigenous people in the United States to build community gardens in order to improve their health. It develops workshops to educate people on how to grow and prepare traditional foods. It also has seed saving libraries to protect plant varieties against local climate stresses.
5. Indigenous Food and Agriculture Initiative (Arkansas, United States)
The Indigenous Food and Agriculture Initiative is designed to support indigenous agriculture by helping communities with strategic planning and technical assistance. It is managed by the University of Arkansas School of Law and promotes the sustainable use of natural resources in the communities around the world. “We must absolutely include time to discuss our food security, resiliency of our indigenous food systems, and how to feed the most vulnerable among us in times of crisis,” explains Janie Simms Hipp, the director of the Indigenous Food and Agriculture Initiative.
6. Jatun Sach’a (Bolivia)
Jatun Sach’a is a project managed by the Ministry of Rural Development in Bolivia. It aims to promote the sustainable use of natural resources by collaborating with indigenous families in the country. The program has supported more than 4,000 families, and it is expected to benefit another 12,000 families. The women use local plants and vegetables to develop products designed to increase food security.
7. Native Harvest (Minnesota, United States)
Native Harvest is an initiative that works to protect native seeds, fruits, and animals. It promotes indigenous knowledge and traditions in indigenous communities by maintaining indigenous farming methods.
8. Native Seeds/SEARCH (southwestern United States)
Native Seeds/SEARCH is an organization that works to preserve seeds from the southwestern United States and northwestern Mexico. It has a seed bank and a conservation farm in Arizona. It aims to protect indigenous knowledge and promote the use of traditional farming methods in indigenous communities.
9. Natwani Coalition (Arizona, United States)
The Natwani Coalition promotes the use of indigenous knowledge in Arizona. It works with indigenous children to teach them about traditional farming practices and build school gardens.
10. Nuru International’s Agriculture Program (Kenya)
This initiative uses local knowledge to build sustainable agricultural programs that will be managed by people within the communities. It provides training to farmers in Kenya on how to increase the crop yields of corn.
11. Navdanya (India)
Navdanya is a network of organic producers in India. The organization works with people to build community seed banks and teach farmers about sustainable agriculture. It also has an organic farm where the farmers can learn about preserving cultural methods in India.
12. Platform for Agrobiodiversity Research (Global)
This initiative gathered information on how indigenous communities are using agrobiodiversity to deal with climate change. It examined how these communities adapted their farming systems for two years.
13. Rural Development Institute (INDER) (Costa Rica)
The Rural Development Institute (INDER) developed a project designed to create integrated production systems using traditional farming methods in the Talamanca – La Estrella Valley territory. The area is vulnerable to climate change, and people are dependent on the agricultural sector. The initiative works to improve food security by preserving traditional knowledge and local indigenous traditions.
14. Sierra de Juárez Union of Organisations (Mexico)
Sierra de Juárez Union of Organisations is comprised of 12 indigenous communities in Mexico. These communities are trying to preserve their land and natural resources in Oaxaca, Mexico. The members of the group are taught agro-ecological methods to manage vegetable, coffee, maize, and livestock production.
15. World Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities’ Land and Sea Managers’ Network (Global)
The World Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities’ Land and Sea Managers’ Network was developed at the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development. The network works to bring local communities and indigenous people together to talk about how they used traditional knowledge to manage sustainable livelihoods.
Danielle Nierenberg is President, Food Tank, foodtank.com