Strengthening the Capacities and Networking of Guardians of Diversity in Mexico

21 Jun 2024

In a world where cultural heritage and biodiversity are increasingly threatened, the Slow Food  Indigenous Peoples Network, thanks to the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, has been steadfast in its commitment to strengthening Indigenous communities’ capacities to protect their food heritage. Through the project, “Strengthening the Capacities and Networking of Guardians of Diversity in Mexico,” the network has led initiatives to foster self-determination, knowledge exchange, and cultural revitalization among Indigenous communities.

Weaving a Strong Network

Under the project’s umbrella, Indigenous-led training programs are tailored to Indigenous youth and aim to enhance food sovereignty, biological and cultural diversity protection, and community self-determination. With 288 participants primarily from Mexico, but not limited to, the Slow Food Indigenous Peoples’ Network’s commitment to inclusivity and gender equity was evident, with 70% of participants being women and 55% youth. 

Among these, it is worth highlighting an intensive training course to provide youth with project design techniques, aiming to foster self-determination and shift away from top-down project implementation approaches. This resulted in 24 youth-designed community-led initiatives promoting food sovereignty. Graduates then submitted their project proposals to the Slow Food Indigenous Peoples Network in Mexico, and nine were selected for funding.

The independent company that audited the nine selected projects, PADES, found that the proposals stem from a real and specific problem identified within the communities where they would be implemented, fostering, in various ways, the preservation of their biocultural heritage and food sovereignty. Among the achievements identified are: the creation of networks with organizations and institutions, the strengthening of indigenous identity, the positive impact of the project on the personal lives of young leaders, and the production of horizontal knowledge, among others.

Participation fostered collective action, networking, and the recognition of women’s roles as stewards of natural resources and biodiversity, and as bearers of rich traditional knowledge systems. Thirteen new Slow Food Communities were created by participants to champion food diversity in their communities across Mexico. A platform between all the Slow Food Indigenous Peoples Communities in the country was created then, where youth represent various Mexican States, cultivating grassroots movements, amplifying Indigenous peoples’ voices, and promoting collaboration and advocacy. This endeavor has resulted in a more robust, inclusive, and diverse network. 

Moreover, the project has led to tangible results. From the creation of networks to the strengthening of Indigenous cultural identity, the project’s initiatives have created positive change at both individual and community levels.

Cultural Revitalization Through Knowledge Management, Advocacy, and Global Engagement

At the heart of the SFIPsN mission lies the imperative to protect and promote food biodiversity, pursued through various knowledge management initiatives. Among these is the creation of a manual for Indigenous youth on project writing providing tools to advocate for self-driven development. Additionally, communication efforts, exemplified by the global Decolonize Your Food Campaign, played a pivotal role in raising awareness about the food heritage of Indigenous peoples, highlighting its cultural significance, and addressing the risks of cultural loss or appropriation. Indeed, it produced positive impacts at the local level for youth activists, as was the case of one youth baker that due to the newfound visibility, they could engage with traditional Indigenous bakers, mainly elders, now committed to protecting their traditional knowledge, activating a local network. This campaign, born in Mexico, was welcomed by the global SFIPsN, scaling up and out to all the continents. 

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Thanks to the project, the submission of 52 new nominations for inclusion in the Ark of Taste marks a significant step toward the protection of traditional foods for generations. 

The commitment to knowledge management, alongside efforts to strengthen networks and safeguard traditional foods, underscores the dedication to cultural revitalization and the promotion of food biodiversity. Through these initiatives, the organization remains steadfast in its mission to protect Indigenous people’s food heritage, strengthen communities, and pave the way for a sustainable future. Beyond local communities, advocacy extends to international platforms, including supporting youth participation in UN events in Rome in 2023 and to Terra Madre in 2022, where activists could exchange best practices and get connected with like-minded people from around the world. 

The pinnacle of the project’s endeavors culminated in the organization of the Indigenous Terra Madre Abya Yala Peoples event. This gathering, held from March 6-10, 2024, in Mexico City, served as a symbol of unity for the food guardians from all Abya Yala (American continent). The event brought together over 100 representatives from different regions and nations, including the Aymara, Comachuén, Diaguita, Juruna, Kichwa Kañari, Nahua, Mapuche, Maya, and many more. Led by the Timo´Patla Intercultural Indigenous Organization and the Slow Food Indigenous Peoples’ Network, the five-day event saw delegates from Slow Food’s international network share knowledge and experiences, advocating for a different food system while decolonizing their food practices. Together, they issued a powerful message to the world, highlighting the inseparable link between food justice, social justice, and environmental stewardship.

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Impact on Local Communities: a Focus on Chiapas and Yucatán

The project continued to support the work with women, men, and youth entrepreneurs in Chiapas committed to protecting the milpa system through the Slow Food Milpa System Presidium. Communities have self-organized to protect specific endangered varieties of corn and beans (essential to the milpa system), the tostada-producing cooperative is now institutionally strengthened and led by young Indigenous women, ensuring the longevity and sustainability of local food systems. These communities are now actively involved in the Slow Food Indigenous Peoples Network in Chiapas, defining and organizing their action plans.

An external evaluation highlighted the profound and far-reaching impact of the project’s initiatives on local communities. The evaluation made evident that cultural activities have revitalized traditional practices and knowledge systems, promoting the conservation of agrobiodiversity and fostering resilience in the face of environmental challenges.

Quantitative results showed the project’s focus on vulnerable populations, with no impact yet on household income but significant reductions in food costs and total expenditures

An index assessing food sovereignty highlighted stable scenarios but identified the need to strengthen transformation and commercialization aspects. Qualitative findings highlighted the importance of plant and seed exchanges for food sovereignty and the promotion of local biocultural heritage, reducing household food expenditures. Furthermore, the facilitation of spaces for exchange and training contributed to the recognition of women’s roles, and food sovereignty in participating communities.

The project contributes to food sovereignty” reads the final report of the PADES evaluation, the company that analyzed the project results. “Through good, clean, and fair production and spaces that enable the formation of networks for the defense of seeds and their ways of life, constituting the bastion of the milpa system as something more than merely a productive project. The project has also fostered collaborative networks, leaving a positive mark on the participating groups. They are highly motivated by the continuity of activities, such as seed exchanges and training, and feel that they can now maintain links with external and internal actors in an autonomous manner,” says PADES.

As we reflect on the project, it is evident that the collaborative efforts with the W.K. Kellogg Foundation have yielded significant results. Through sharing knowledge, advocacy, and cultural revitalization, the Slow Food Indigenous Peoples Network works to ensure that the voices of  Indigenous communities in Mexico and beyond, are heard and their food heritage is celebrated and protected for generations to come.

“The biocultural heritage of Indigenous and local communities is a central component in addressing the planet's socio-environmental crisis. As an evaluation team, we believe that Slow Food is working to fulfill its commitment to improving the social, economic, and health conditions of the communities that adopt its projects through culturally appropriate activities that promote food sovereignty based on the revaluation of biocultural elements. The results of our evaluation of the activities carried out in Mexico confirm the impact of Slow Food's activities on the revaluation of practices and knowledge related to production systems that promote the in situ conservation of agrobiodiversity, closely associated, while also ensuring the gradual adaptation of agricultural diversity to adverse climatic conditions, through the promotion of diversified landscape management and the empowerment of participating groups.” "

- Mauricio Lopez Barreto, Diana Castilo Lonza, Edith Pereyra de La Rosa, Ivan Hernandez Cuevas, Javier Becerril Garcia from PADES SC -

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