Indigenous Peoples have suffered disproportionately from the economic impacts of COVID-19, yet they hold essential knowledge for rebuilding a more sustainable and resilient post-pandemic world, free of poverty and hunger, said Gilbert F. Houngbo, President of the UN’s International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), at the opening of the Fifth global meeting of the Indigenous Peoples’ Forum today.
“COVID-19 has devastated the lives of millions of people across the globe. But this dreadful plague also drives us to find ways to live more harmoniously with nature,” said Houngbo. “We know that the only way to achieve this is by joining forces with Indigenous Peoples - who are stewards both of nature and of a vast reservoir of traditional knowledge around the world.”
This biennial meeting held virtually this year, focuses on The value of indigenous food systems: resilience in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. Hosted by IFAD, it brings together 154 indigenous leaders from 57 countries, as well as representatives of development organizations and governments, to discuss indigenous food systems and the resilience they have displayed in the face of COVID-19, and how to address challenges and opportunities moving forward.
His Holiness Pope Francis, in a message read on his behalf, said there is a need “to promote a development without embracing consumption as both the means and the end; it means truly looking after the environment to listen, learn and respect.” The Pope added: “Only in this humility of spirit will we definitively overcome hunger and achieve a society based on enduring values that flow not from one-sided passing trends but rather from justice and goodness.”
Among the participants was Margaret Tunda Lepore, member of the Maasai peoples in East Africa, who said that her community’s situation has worsened due to the pandemic, which “poses serious threats to indigenous economies, whose ways of life are already compromised by the various challenges posed by climate change and land tenure.” She added: “The presence of this pandemic made Indigenous Peoples more vulnerable and marginalized than before. “
The COVID-19 pandemic poses a grave threat to Indigenous Peoples around the world and is disproportionately affecting their communities, exacerbating underlying structural inequalities and pervasive discrimination. Access to food and safe water has decreased, local and traditional economies have been disrupted. As lockdowns continue in numerous countries, indigenous communities whose land rights are denied or who do not have self-determination on their territories are not able to exercise control over their food production, losing their livelihoods and reducing their ability to sustain themselves.
Nevertheless, Indigenous Peoples have applied their own solutions to cope with the pandemic. Their lifestyle, food systems, culture and connection to their lands have been a great source of resilience in the face of COVID-19. They have acted using their own traditional knowledge and practices, including voluntary isolation and sealing off their territories, as well as using preventive care measures in their own languages, in order to keep their communities alive.
“You have shown how resilience needs to build from the grassroots up, incorporating the best of traditional knowledge and maintaining a connection with nature,” Houngbo told Forum participants. “Bringing indigenous knowledge and practices into global food systems can spur new and creative solutions to the challenges we face, especially climate change. And it can help put an end to bad practices that harm Indigenous Peoples and nature.”
Indigenous Peoples play a critical role as stewards of the environment, with 80 per cent of the world’s remaining biodiversity found on indigenous territories.
The Indigenous Peoples’ Forum runs until 4 February, followed by an Indigenous Week (8-12 February) with a dialogue on biodiversity conservation. The closing session of the Forum is on 15 February.
IFAD supports projects focusing on Indigenous Peoples to ensure the protection, promotion, re-introduction or revitalization of local traditional crop varieties, food systems, seeds systems, agrobiodiversity and agroecological systems. Since the beginning of its operations four decades ago, IFAD has approved 245 projects supporting at least 42 million indigenous people.