International Land Coalition in Africa, Europe and the Middle East gather online to discuss challenges and solutions facing the regions’ food systems, informed by better land governance and the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals. The Dialogues will shape the United States Food Systems Summit in September 2021
The regions’ land rights organizations and communities, companies, development partners, civil society, citizens and food producers, plus a small smattering of indigenous peoples convene on Zoom where the United States Food Systems Summit Independent Dialogues for Africa, Europe and the Middle East is held on Tuesday evening, 11 March 2021. The ensuing two hours of discussion ‘harvest’ the following themes on indigenous peoples as guardians of eco- and food systems:
The rise of land grabbing
The relentless rise of land grabbing and ever more activities of timber logging, supported by governments, are preventing indigenous peoples from producing rare food needed by communities.
The Action Tract 3 of the Food Systems Summit is “boost nature-positive production”. That, in the Summit’s-speak, means to “optimize environmental resource use in food production, processing and distribution, thereby reducing biodiversity loss, pollution, water use, soil degradation and greenhouse gas emissions”.
For the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, the forests of indigenous and tribal territories are key to mitigating climate change and conserving biodiversity.
The Action Tract 3 might look at the threat to the forest of indigenous peoples, asking if the government-supported timber industries, depriving huge communities of farm lands, would not be failing “the optimization of environmental resource.” Another question is whether we are asking what food production means for indigenous peoples: they depend on the food they produce and respect the land they produce it on, as opposed to those who exploit and destroy.
Without secure land, there is no food for indigenous peoples and communities; therefore no livelihoods and security for them.
Continuing eviction turmoil is driving millions out of their milieu, as desperate companies continue to negotiate for their land. Researchers say threats to these forests are increasing and it can no longer be assumed that they will continue to be well protected without greater support. Who will speak for indigenous peoples? Pooled advocacy from organizations can give indigenous peoples more voice.
Participants hope that the Summit might consider pooled funds to help build the capacity of indigenous peoples. This would enable them speak out for themselves, even before they are pushed to a tipping point by the constant lure of their land.
Urgent areas according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations report named above include: collective territorial rights, indigenous community forestry; payment for environmental services; cultural revitalization and traditional knowledge; and strengthening indigenous and tribal organizations, including the equitable participation of women and youth.
This falls under Action Track 4 that “will improve resilience through social protection and seek to ensure that food systems ‘leave no one behind’.”
Indigenous crops fading
“Do we need new policies?” participants ask. Definitely. Perhaps more do we need a review of land policies in many countries. The Ogiek of Kenya won a landmark land rights case at the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights. Four years on, the implementation of the court reading in Arusha, Tanzania, on Friday 26 May 2017, in favour of the Ogiek of Kenya’s Mau forests, is yet to begin.
As indigenous peoples fight against food loss, so are they faced with the disappearance of indigenous crops. They embrace cash crops and therefore loss of sovereignty.
Action Track 2 hopes to “strengthen local value chains, improve nutrition, and promote the reuse and recycling of food resources”.
Participants to the Independent Dialogue note that indigenous tree-based systems and their related tree value chains, including tree fodder and meals, need to be considered under Action Track 2.
Indigenous cultures in turmoil
As eviction of indigenous peoples and terror spread, it becomes difficult for communities to continue hunting. In some countries, hunting has been defined by governments as poaching – barring indigenous communities from the activity.
This has led to the erosion of indigenous identity, assimilation and loss of bee keeping, that gave millions of indigenous peoples a source of livelihood.
Indigenous communities contribute to food systems for pastoralists. But indigenous peoples have lost huge amount of land in the past century. Historically indigenous peoples and pastoralists have been opposed by cases of livestock raiding and inter-communal violence.
But it still provides hope that programmes, such as the Participatory Rangelands Management, in Kenya and Tanzania, can be scaled to other communities.
The use of Participatory Rangelands Management, piloted in the two countries since 2018, has helped reverse the oft conflict spiral into a relationship of mutual reciprocity and peace, increasing nutrition.
All agriculture-related conferences in the past decade have mentioned the importance of land tenure for food production. But they never made it a priority.
Now participants ask: “Will the Food Systems Summit 2021 get bodies to prioritize land?”