“If you look at a map of global agrobiodiversity hotspots you soon realize that they are identical with Indigenous Peoples’ habitats.”
This is one of the first things I learnt from Phrang Roy; one of the world’s leading advocates for the rights of Indigenous Peoples and agrobiodiversity. Between 2002 and 2006 Mr Roy served as the Assistant President of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD). Earlier this year I had the honor of visiting the province of Meghalaya, in the north east of India, where Phrang is from, and discovered a lot more about what the word ‘indigenous’ means.
Called Tribal Peoples, First Peoples, Native Peoples; Indigenous Peoples constitute about 5% of the world’s population, yet account for about 15% of the world’s poor. There are approximately 370 million Indigenous Peoples in the world, belonging to 5,000 different groups, in 90 countries worldwide.
I soon learnt that the traditions and livelihoods of Indigenous Peoples are endangered all over the world. According to Phrang, the traditional knowledge of these communities hold the key to solving important problems regarding how to feed the world. Slow Food and its Indigenous Terra Madre Network recognize this and the role these communities can play in creating a better world. It was therefore time for the youth network to get to know these people as well.
At Salone del Gusto and Terra Madre 2014, the Slow Food Youth Network held a workshop that brought together young representatives of the Indigenous Terra Madre Network – from Europe, Africa, the Americas and Asia – to exchange experiences and ideas.
Amidst a crowd with many people dressed in traditional clothes, Phrang Roy opened the meeting by asking all the attendants to start with a moment of silence to remember their ancestors, a practice common to many Indigenous Peoples. After outlining the link between losing land and losing language, culture and food, he explained the importance of perseverance and courage when fighting for what you believe in. He ended his talk by urging the group to cherish the knowledge of Indigenous Peoples: “As the human race chases after the ‘developed’ ones that are speeding towards a ravine, indigenous knowledge is what people will look to as something that could have saved them from falling down”.
The rest of the session was dedicated to showcasing different young people from the indigenous communities present at Terra Madre. First up was Ayu Chuepa (Lee) from Thailand, who told the group how he had gone back home after his education to set up a coffee farm (amongst other products), where his elders earn a good living selling coffee to specialty shops around the world. Dali Nolasca Cruz from Mexico took to floor to tell the story of their local community working with Serano Chili (an Ark of Taste product) to produce a salsa. Roba Bulga from Ethiopia explained how he had become a young Slow Food leader in his country after attending the University of Gastronomic Sciences in Italy. He urged everyone in the room to do the same with all the inspiration taken from Salone del Gusto and Terra Madre.
Aida Baimakova from Kazakistan described how her nomadic people live in equilibrium with nature, and outlined the environmental effects of this way of life disappearing. Next, Taína Godinho and Bening Edni from the Amazon region in Brazil took some time to talk about the problems of deforestation and the uncertainty this brings for indigenous communities. Very practically, it means no coloring agents for traditional paint, no feathers for headdresses, no traditional food and most importantly, nowhere to live. Munguntsetseg Erdenetugs from Mongolia went on to explain the diversity of products that can be found in indigenous communities, explaining how her people produce meat, milk and cheese not only from cows and sheep, but also from camels, horses and yaks.
Last up was Selvi Nanji from India, who focused mainly on communication. She highlighted the importance of storytelling when trying to preserve cultural identities, and the difficulties presented when trying to reach communities with little technology.
Over the next few months, leading up to the next Indigenous Terra Madre meeting taking place in India in 2015 (in Phrang’s home town), Slow Food and SFYN will be doing just that: telling stories. Watch the space…