‘Nature is not a commodity’: can the world learn from indigenous food systems before they are lost?

He is then traced to his family, who are spread across 24 villages in a tropical region of Ecuador, from the mountains of the Andes to the lowlands of the Amazon. The Shuar tribe, to which it belongs, has lived there for centuries.

Growing up in the wild with armadillos, monkeys and boa constrictors, the 24-year-old Zimbizi (known as Shushui by his family) has a deep respect for nature and recognizes its fragility. The community, says Zimbijti, knows it can make money by exploiting the land—such as extracting and selling salt from a rare saltwater spring. But it doesn’t choose.

“We take in enough but not too much,” he says. “It would be a lack of respect for everything and create a total imbalance.”

This attitude is true among most of the world’s indigenous peoples and has been important in the conservation of the natural world. While indigenous peoples make up just 5% of the global population and occupy less than a quarter of the world’s surface area, their territories account for about 80% of the world’s biodiversity. world Bank.
In contrast, modern food practices are responsible for almost 60% of global biodiversity loss.
To ensure the future of the planet, the world must learn from the practices of indigenous peoples, says Frang Roy, who is related to the Khasi indigenous peoples in Northeast India. he a. is one of the authors of 2021 report Led by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations on the food systems of indigenous peoples, which warned of the growing dangers of these unique traditions.

“This is a lesson that is really important for the modern day, when we are facing all the crises of climate breakdown, growing inequality and loss of biodiversity,” he says.

give back to nature

Together 476 million indigenous people Around the world, living in regions ranging from the Arctic to the Sahara Desert, customs and traditions vary wildly. But at the heart of the philosophy of many indigenous groups is the idea of ​​giving back to the earth.

“Indigenous peoples have harmony and interrelation with (nature), which is based on balance and cooperation,” says Roy.

The Khasi community of Roy, located in the foothills of the Himalayas in Northeast India, has a custom of lighting a fire in the morning and boiling water for tea before going to the fields. People then take the ashes from the fire and spread it on communal crops “as a manure or fertilizer for the ground, showing their identity,” says Roy.

The Khasi people live in a matrilineal society where titles and wealth are transferred from mother to daughter.

While collecting honey from hives high in the trees, the Baka people of Cameroon sprinkle the seeds of fruit trees to mark the path to the hive. According to the FAO report, this helps the area to regenerate and spread biodiversity, thereby compensating for disturbances in vegetation during honey harvest.

This focus on nutrition and regeneration is in contrast to modern agriculture, which generally aims to achieve the highest yield for maximum profit.

For example, fallow land (leaving the soil unplanted for some time) has long been a tradition of indigenous peoples. But in modern farming it has historically been seen as a barren land. Roy explains how, in India, economic development has transformed indigenous fallow lands to produce the same crop, such as rice, year after year.

The Baka people, usually hunter-gatherers, forage for mushrooms in the forest.
Only in recent decades, as environmental impact of modern agriculture has come to light, whether some governments have recognized the ecological benefits of this practice. NS EU now rewards farmers To leave the land fallow to improve biodiversity.

“On these fallow lands, there are many generations of wild foods that are very nutrient-rich, and important to trees, bees, pollinators, and birds,” Roy says. “We can’t just take everything out, it needs to be refilled even when we’re used to it.”

The knowledge of wild fauna and flora possessed by indigenous peoples may also be vital to a sustainable future. According to FAO studies, some indigenous food systems use more than 250 species for food and medicinal purposes. Many of these are considered “neglected” or “underused” by the United Nations, but may be help feed Increasing world population.

In danger

But this knowledge and wisdom are in danger of disappearing altogether. Indigenous peoples find themselves on the front lines of climate change, many living in areas that are subject to rising temperatures or extreme weather events. Development, land grabbing, deforestation and extraction of natural resources are also major threats, as well as targeted crime, reports the NGO Global Witness. 227 environmental defenders killed in 2020of which more than a third were indigenous.

The influence of modern culture and increasing access to markets is also having a detrimental effect. Indigenous peoples today are more dependent on global markets for production, with the FAO noting that some groups derive nearly half of their food from it.

Traditionally the Shuar people have been self-sufficient and self-governing.  In the picture, Saeeda Unkuch is in Chumpias, Ecuador, with her son Car Mashingashi.

The Zimbizi have seen this directly in the Shuar community. He says that ever since mining companies entered the area, packaged and processed foods have been introduced. His community now eats chicken, chocolate, butter and sardines, which he has never eaten before.

It is changing not only diet, but also health and lifestyle. “People have become lazy,” and put on weight, he says — adopting a more sedentary rather than nomadic lifestyle.

“Our culture is going through a very strong transition,” says Zimbizi. “We are losing our roots.”


To preserve these cultures, Roy urged nations to guarantee indigenous peoples “rights to land” and “rights to traditional knowledge and language”. If the local language begins to deteriorate because it is not taught in local schools, community members forget the names of plants and herbs and ancient practices, he says.

While indigenous rights have improved over the past two decades, with the implementation of United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and other treaties, still a long way to go.

The FAO report calls for more inclusive dialogue with indigenous peoples and their involvement in sustainable management decisions. It concludes that “the world cannot sustain itself without listening to indigenous peoples.”

Roy believes that the biggest lesson to be learned is the value system of indigenous peoples: the worldview that “land and nature are not one commodity.”


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