Decolonizing our food, decolonizing our thoughts

09 Aug 2023

Once again this year, August 9 is the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples. Thanks to the Terra Madre Network, I have been lucky enough to have a number of dealings with indigenous communities in my lifetime and to see for myself how their lives are intrinsically linked with everything around them.

© Guo Haotian. Qi Yan Village.

They possess a wisdom that is different from ours and we can learn a lot from it. At present, only 6% of the world population identify as members of an indigenous people, yet this small percentage preserves 80% of global biodiversity – an inestimable treasure for the future.

Over centuries of colonialism and forced acculturation, indigenous peoples have been mistreated, confined to protected areas (just like giant pandas and mountain gorillas) or, worse still, wiped out. Witness Bolsonaro’s four-year presidency in Brazil, during which the Yanomami indigenous people were subjected to all manner of impositions. Or 2020, a year in which more than a third of the 227 climate activists killed worldwide were indigenous. This is an outrage for humanity and we have to oppose it by every means possible. We need to stress that the diversity of cultures of indigenous peoples is an unalienable right that cannot be violated. This diversity is the greatest creative force on Earth, and at this moment in history–characterized by one crisis after another–I am convinced that it can help trigger sustainable virtuous practices to slow down the devastation of ecosystems, and of the flora and fauna that reproduce in them. And let me also add that it is nonsensical to expect to protect biodiversity without allowing the very people who are preserving it to govern their own local areas. This is why indigenous peoples should be allowed to control their own lands, growing and hunting and fishing and gathering according to their own needs and decisions.

Beware, however. If we are to recognize the rights of indigenous peoples, we also have to decolonize our own thinking, to free our spirit of any idea of domination or the power of money or greed. It must be clear to everyone the amount of harm that has been inflicted on these peoples in the name of progress and market supremacy. And how much knowledge and how many fruits of the Earth have been pirated from indigenous communities by unscrupulous pharmaceutical and food multinationals. Enough of the market dynamics of extractivism–the booty has to be returned.

For centuries, humanity’s arrogant idea of progress was based on the conviction that the planet’s resources were infinite and that our control over nature was limitless. But today we are on the brink of a precipice. Drought, soil depletion, plant and animal extinction, food waste–all problems that will lead us to a tragic destiny. We need to shift down a gear and acknowledge that having practiced natural and subsistence economy since time immemorial, indigenous peoples possess the key for a more sustainable approach to life. It is here, not with the food and agribusiness multinationals, that the answer to the question of how to feed the planet lies. And it is here too that true democracy, the participation of everyone for the common good, is set into motion.

Learning to live with the Earth is the only way we have of emerging from the crises tormenting us. This is the proverbial elephant in the room that, what with the pandemic, war and the energy crisis, we blithely continue to ignore. Indigenous peoples have always taught us that everything is connected and that taking care of all creatures is the greatest gift we have been given. This lesson must spur and drive change. We need to take it on board and make sure that governments recognize indigenous peoples’ entitlement to–and the central importance of–their rights, especially in the countries in which they live. Only by respecting diversity and traditional knowledge can we truly create a better future in which no one is left behind.

Find out more about the “Decolonize Your Food” Campaign (DA VERIFICARE)

Taken from FQ Millennium, on sale at newsagents in Italy

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