By Emile Frison, Director General of Bioversity International
Yesterday, I had the privilege of being an invited speaker at the Indigenous Peoples’ International Conference on Sustainable Development and Self-Determination, as part of Rio+20. This was a real honor to learn first hand from indigenous peoples around the world of their concerns and hopes for our sustainable future.
Culture is an important part of sustainability, and maintaining food and agricultural traditions is important to indigenous peoples. Indigenous peoples are custodians of biodiversity, maintaining and conserving it every day and passing this knowledge from generation to generation. The concept of bien vivir – living well with the land and everything around you – is one they embrace.
Bioversity International has strong connections to indigenous peoples in Africa, Asia and the Americas. We build these connections by involving them as equal partners to approach situations including climate change, hunger, malnutrition and loss of crops to pests and diseases. Involving stakeholders is the only way our research can be effective, and these connections provide insights into important aspects of projects including culture and tradition.
Improving the nutrition and livelihoods of smallholder farmers – many of whom are indigenous peoples – in communities facing peril and poverty is our goal. Bioversity International is investigating how biodiversity can make a difference in those communities and be a valuable tool of sustainability.
Here are a few examples of the work of Bioversity International with indigenous peoples:
- In the Niassa Reserve of Mozambique, Bioversity and our partners have carried out studies on the wild plant resources used by local people of three different indigenous groups for food, construction, fuel and other purposes. We are working with them and the reserve managers to figure out how to reduce the negative impact of some of their harvesting practices, notably cutting hive trees to obtain honey from local bee species. We arranged for Mr. Alberto Siabo, one of the indigenous honey hunters, to participate in an international congress of indigenous honey hunters from around the world as one input into the process of seeking alternative approaches to the hunting and harvesting of honey.
- Since 2001 Bioversity has been working with local communities – including indigenous peoples – in south Asia (India, Nepal) and Latin America (Bolivia, Peru) to enhance use of traditional crops to improve livelihoods. Our work has a special focus on women and aims at enhancing the benefits from local crops that are currently undervalued and marginalized. These interventions are helping to strengthen household nutrition security in ways that are culturally appropriate and boost incomes. In addition to boosting income and nutrition, there has been a contribution in raising self-esteem and confidence of indigenous peoples because this work leverages crops, traditions and cultural values that have been neglected and even worse, looked upon with a negative connotation.
- Other examples of collaboration include our work with the International Treaty and communities, agrotourism with indigenous communities of the Andes, and the Payment for Agrobiodiversity Conservation Services (PACS) programme that rewards communities for their stewardship role in maintaining traditional crops/varieties.
Again I’d like to thank the indigenous peoples I met for their time and for inviting me to be a guest. I especially thank Mirna Cunningham for extending the invitation. I congratulate their many accomplishments, including a newly published book and the work they are doing together to overcome issues they face in their communities.
Moving forward, Bioversity International will continue to advocate for and work with indigenous peoples. Bioversity is a host for the Indigenous Partnership for Agrobiodiversity and Food Sovereignty, led by Phrang Roy. This partnership is valued in our organization. Our doors are open to all indigenous peoples to work together with us to conserve and use biodiversity.