Solution Cluster 4.1.1

Empowering Communities and Indigenous Peoples: Recognising Rights and Traditional Knowledge

Solution Cluster 4.1.1. Empowering Communities: Recognising Rights, Indigenous Peoples, and Traditional Knowledge is concerned with increasing respect for rights, equality, and non-discrimination within food systems. The cluster places more effective territorial-level governance including recognition of indigenous food systems as effective landscape management, rights over land and resources, improved capacity for action, cooperation, and traditional knowledge (TK) at the centre of sustainable food systems. It aims specifically at integrating a human rights perspective in food systems work to ensure that the fight against inequality, hunger, and malnutrition – affecting people who are marginalised – is effective, sustainable, and just.

The cluster focuses on a collection of solutions to increase the inclusion and strengthen the agency of marginalised communities. They include: 1) the enhancement and promotion of existing capacity and facilitating the harnessing of traditional knowledge; 2) the revitalisation of food culture and recognising the role of women as custodians of traditional ecological knowledge linked to natural resource management; 3) the recognition of tenure rights, the right to food and other human rights; and, 4) strengthening local organisations with equitable participation of women and youth – without marginalising elders and other knowledge holders. 

This cluster will also ensure that process and product innovation and digital solutions will be accessible and integrated throughout its solutions and build on existing good practices based on traditional knowledge. These include traditional soil conservation practices; the role of indigenous communities as custodians of genetic diversity of seeds, cultivated and wild plants and animals; early warning systems based on ancestral knowledge for weather forecasting, which contribute to disaster risk reduction; the cultivation of nutrient-rich and often neglected foods for dietary diversity and for marketing. These activities and practices are a benefit for all, and many have proven key during the current COVID-19 pandemic, which has exposed the vulnerabilities of global food chains. This solution cluster can thus have a significant impact on lives and the livelihoods of millions of people and their natural environments and will greatly contribute to climate mitigation and biodiversity conservation.

About this Solution Cluster

Multidimensional poverty and insecure livelihoods in rural and urban areas characterises many of our food systems. There is a need for new solutions to preserve and protect the environment, manage and restore biodiversity, and adapt to and mitigate climate change, while also preventing violent conflict and forced displacement. Critical actors and assets in the pursuit of this goal are local communities, small-scale food producers, family farmers, pastoralists, and Indigenous Peoples, who often live in remote areas, forests, mountains, deserts, and coastal areas and manage their own food systems.[1]By “critical actor” this cluster considers: indigenous peoples and local communities, small-scale farmers, family farmers, livestock farmers, small-scale fishers, and fish workers, as provided by the UN General Assembly Resolution A/RES/74/242 on Agriculture Development, Food Security and Nutrition, approved on 19 December 2019. Their traditional knowledge has been critical to the preservation of biological and cultural diversity, the sustainable use of natural resources, the protection of the integrity of ecosystems, as well as the contribution to national food security and nutrition through the production of nutrient-rich foods. This cluster is needed to protect and enhance that knowledge to balance contemporary focus on the commodification of food. Indigenous peoples’ strengths, collective networks of practices and knowledge have been eroded and marginalised, reducing their control over their diets, diminishing their access to traditional sources of food, and, therefore, denying their right to food.

The custodianship of biodiversity by indigenous peoples is supported by over 4000 indigenous languages whose rich vocabularies depict extensive knowledge and association with the natural environment. Biocultural diversity is thus a critical concept as it transcends contemporary scientific discourse which addresses biodiversity and culture distinctly. The special envoy called for bold solutions in the context of the summit and this requires breaking out of disciplines, respecting, and working with diversity and adopting truly multidisciplinary approaches. Indigenous food systems are complex and multifunctional because some communities generate food with minimum human intervention on the ecosystem (hunter-gatherers, fishers, herders, pastoralists) while others cultivate, and still others combine food generation and food production. Because of this, there is a need to ensure respect for indigenous peoples’ autonomy and agency to govern their own customary lands and territories and exercise their rights to live in harmony with nature.

Further, small-scale/family farmers play a crucial role in human food consumption systems, producing 70 percent of global output, and their rights require protection. Many have insecure land tenure, are rarely recognised for their contribution and are subject to threats and vulnerabilities, including environmental degradation and climate change impacts. The COVID-19 pandemic has increased existing vulnerabilities and exacerbated underlying structural inequalities, socio-economic marginalisation, and pervasive discrimination. It has also disproportionately affected small-scale food producers, family farmers, pastoralists, and local and indigenous peoples’ communities, posing risks to their livelihoods, physical and cultural existence. The pandemic has served as a reminder that control over the production of and access to food is one of the world’s most fundamental sources of power. Many food systems are premised on extreme imbalances in this power structure, which reinforces the inequalities the UNFSS aims to resolve.

Land inequality directly threatens the livelihoods of an estimated 2.5 billion people involved in small-scale agriculture, as well the world’s poorest 1.4 billion people, most of whom depend largely on agriculture (including forests and fisheries) for their livelihoods. Ten percent of the rural population controls 60 percent of agricultural land value, while the bottom 50 percent controls 3 percent.[2]Uneven Ground: Land Inequality at the Heart of Unequal Societies, 2020, International Land Coalition. Indigenous peoples have rights to and/or manage at least 28 percent of the world’s land area.[3]Garnett, Stephen T., et al., A spatial overview of the global importance of Indigenous lands for conservation, Nature Sustainability 1(7), July 2018. A significant portion of this land area overlaps with the Earth’s critical ecosystems and contain over 80 percent of the planet’s biodiversity.[4]Study to examine conservation and indigenous peoples’ human rights, 2018, study prepared for UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues. Their knowledge and understanding of these ecosystems and lands are a critical resource to all and must be protected. Indigenous peoples’ governance systems which have proven their capacity to ensure the well-being and food security of their people should be strengthened. However, large-scale resource extraction, land grabbing and conflict threaten small-scale food producers, pastoralists, local communities and indigenous peoples’ livelihoods and wellbeing. Reaffirming the rights of indigenous peoples to their lands and territories and ensuring equitable access to land and land tenure rights, as well as other natural resources, is thus a key component to ensure secure food systems.

Evidence shows that securing land rights; applying traditional knowledge with scientific technology with an intercultural approach; and supporting small-scale food producers, family farmers, pastoralists, local and indigenous peoples’ communities with financial assistance can promote innovative and sustainable solutions to food systems that benefit all. Moreover, recognising existing local capacity and rights contributes to building agency among local communities and indigenous peoples.

The solutions proposed include mechanisms for greater participation and autonomy of Indigenous Peoples and local communities in decision making and policy advocacy; enabling normative frameworks, recognition of local and indigenous governance systems, and recognition and use of existing capacity and knowledge; and recognising basic rights such as the right to food and secure land tenure. These are critical for rebalancing agency and promoting more equitable and sustainable food systems. This cluster is premised on a programme with a potential operational footprint to:

  • establish trust funds and other mechanisms to facilitate access to and strengthening of assets, capacities, skills, and information to advance equitable livelihoods, and secure land titling, tenure rights, and other rights.
  • promote communities’ and indigenous peoples’ agro-ecological approaches such as soil and water conservation; regenerative or conservation agriculture; indigenous seed and breed protection and promotion; agro-forestry, or sustainable fisheries; and including social, economic, and cultural aspects through co-creation of knowledge under an intercultural approach.
  • improve the living environment of people in vulnerable situations and communities at risk through the creation of various community assets for disaster risk reduction.
  • facilitate transparent and accountable land governance and resource management processes as stated in the Committee on World Food Security (CFS), Right to Food Guidelines (RTFG) and Voluntary Guidelines for the Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Forests and Fisheries (VGGT).
  • foster adequate investment and access to resources (financial, human resources, digital, etc.) by key stakeholders recognising the importance of secure land tenure in building sustainable food systems, in accordance with the CFS RTFG and Principles for Responsible Investment in Agriculture and Food Systems (Principle 5: Respect tenure of land, fisheries, forests and water).
  • uphold women’s equal tenure rights and promote their equal access to and control over productive land, natural resources, sustainable inputs and technologies, and access to education, training, markets, and information in line with the CFS RTFG and VGGT.
  • recognise and respect all legitimate tenure right holders and their rights including, as appropriate and in line with national legislation, the legitimate tenure rights of indigenous peoples and local communities with customary tenure systems that exercise self-governance of land, fisheries, and forests, with special attention to the provision of equitable access for women, in line with the CFS VGGT.
  • sustainably manage all terrestrial and marine agroecological systems for nutrition, healthy ecosystems, rural livelihoods, and resilient food chains as well as encourage low input pastoral systems to produce healthy animal source food that contribute to reducing poverty and hunger.
  • support innovative and catalytic funding for research and learning platforms, leadership capacity building, and seed funding to replicate and bring to scale ongoing programmes and projects addressing climate change adaptation and livelihoods globally.

This solution cluster entails identifying solutions and models that 1) assist communities in vulnerable and marginalised situations with the skills and a broad-based set of partners to drive the initiatives forward, and 2) enable processes for all stakeholders and rights-holders to work together to encourage innovation and improve complementarities and synergies for resilience.

Our theory of change is that small-scale farming and localised traditional and indigenous peoples’ food systems can advance equitable livelihoods, nutritional wellbeing, ecosystem health and resilience to climate change. Applying this knowledge and using it can contribute to the design and management of sustainable food systems worldwide. Our aim is to connect traditional knowledge holders with contemporary scientific knowledge as equal partners through multicultural learning and exchange processes for the development of equitable livelihoods. The theory of change is based on centuries of knowledge and learning from indigenous peoples and the evidence that their food systems are sustainable, equitable, productive, and resilient at the same time. It then builds in the imperative of respecting and upholding the right to food and human rights and draws on the best that traditional and contemporary knowledge has to offer in ensuring dignified livelihoods and food security for all.

This cluster embraces a “leave no-one behind” approach and will contribute, specifically, to achieving SDGs 1, 2, 5, 10, 12 and 13 while its coalition building approach addresses SDG 17. The solution cluster is linked to ongoing global policy agendas led by the CFS, Conventional on Biological Diversity (CBD), United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), and the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) and considers recommendations from the White/Wiphala Paper on Indigenous Peoples’ Food Systems.[5]FAO, 2021, The White/Wiphala Paper on Indigenous Peoples’ food systems. Rome.

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