Indigenous knowledge, a lesson for a sustainable food future

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MILAN, Italy—Local knowledge
systems rooted in traditional practices and culture passed down generations
provide sustainable solutions to food and nutritional insecurity on the back of
climate change, said at a conference recently.

More than 370 million indigenous
people, living in 70 countries, make up just 6 percent of the global
population, according to the United Nations. But their food systems are models
of diet diversity, innovation, conservation and local adaptability the world
can benefit from in the face of risks, such as climate change, delegates at the
recent 10th Forum on Food and Nutrition convened by the Barilla Center for Food
and Nutrition (BCFN) were informed.

Speaking at a panel session on
“Preserving Mother Earth, Food Culture, Local Traditions and Biodiversity,”
Mattia Prayer Galletti, lead technical specialist on indigenous peoples and
tribal issues at International Fund for Agricultural Development (Ifad), said
indigenous peoples have a connection with nature. They understand the concept
of sustainability and the protection of natural resources.

Ifad has promoted an Indigenous
Peoples’ Forum to foster dialogue and consultation among indigenous people
organizations and Ifad member-countries. Through this forum, it has supported
the economic empowerment of indigenous people, particularly women and the
youth.

Ifad has also contributed to the
improvement in livelihoods of indigenous peoples through the Indigenous Peoples
Assistance Facility, which has provided small grants of up to $50,000 for
development projects.

He said indigenous food systems
provide food security and biodiversity because indigenous communities have
cultivated resilient foods, making them ideal in adapting to climate change.

This is despite the growing
threats indigenous communities have faced, including marginalization, loss of
their ancestral lands and the destruction of their way of life.

Dali Nolasco Cruz, an advisory
board member of the Indigenous Terra Madre from Mexico, concurred saying
indigenous people are being criminalized and killed by big powers that are
extracting natural resources in their lands.

“We need alliances, we need to
fight for Mother Earth,” Cruz said, “We need to transform our livelihoods by
protecting the Earth to help others.”

Indigenous innovations for food security

Indigenous knowledge provides
innovations, which, researchers are convinced, can provide models for promoting
resilience in our current food systems. Several researchers shared their
ongoing work on this.

Martina Occelli, a PhD student at
the Sant’Anna School of Advanced Studies in Pisa, is undertaking
multidisciplinary research on how smallholder farmer’s collective knowledge is
shaping soil productivity in the Gera region of Ethiopia among 300 smallholder
farmers.

The research has shown that
collective knowledge within and between households which farmers learnt from
their fathers was relevant in determining the soil ability, which is critical
in food production and resilience.

Occelli is a winner of 2018 BCFN
Yes international multidisciplinary contest launched by the BCFN Foundation in
2012 to support research on promoting the intersection of food sustainability
and environmental sustainability.

Geraldin Lengai, another BCFN Yes
winner, is researching on enhancing sustainable agriculture through the
adoption of bio-integrated crop management among tomato farmers in Tanzania,
comparing conventional and nonconventional farming methods.

Her research expects to provide
insights into the use of organic pesticide properties of ginger and
turmeric—cash crops grown by farmers in Tanzania—in fighting pests and diseases
in vegetables.

Also, she has researched the
efficacy of organic fertilizers, such as goat manure and chicken manure, on the
productivity of the spice coriander and amaranthus, a plant cultivated as a
vegetable.

“Sustainable agriculture is
important because you need a doctor once in a while, but you need the farmer at
least three times a day,” Lengai told Inter Press Service.

“I believe people should have
access to food that is safe and healthy. How we produce the food, process it
and how the food reaches the end consumer is the business of sustainable
agriculture, and my research is on crop protection because people use crop
protection synthetically, yet there are alternatives that nature has provides.
Before synthetic pesticides, our forefathers used tobacco to control insects,
and if we can look at other plants that have the same capacity, we can promote
sustainable agriculture.”

Lengai said the benefits of
manure has in producing vegetables and the near to zero cost for farmers who
keep animals means farmers have a sustainable fertilizer for organic produce
which is attractive for global markets.

Citing the case of pesticides
with the Kenya market for French beans, Lengai said organic produce had secured
international markets, which have traceability systems in place.

“Growing organic vegetables and
using organic pesticides and fertilizers is a win-win for everybody for the
environment, for the farmer for the consumer,” Lengai said. She added that
synthetic pesticides are favored because they are easy to apply and cheaper—but
come at a cost to the environment and health.

Image Credits: Busani Bafana/IPS

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