The Future We Want – Perspectives from Indigenous Peoples

PAR and partners'  Exhibition on North-east India Diversity at Indigenous Terra PAR and partners'  Exhibition on North-east India Diversity at Indigenous Terra Madre 2015, Shillong, India/ Photo credit: Dunja Mijatovic

PAR and partners’ Exhibition on North-east India diversity at Indigenous Terra 2015, Shillong, India/ Photo credit: Dunja Mijatovic

Indigenous peoples and their supporters from around the world gathered from 3-7 November in Shillong, Meghalaya,  among the green East Khasi Hills in north-east India for the second Indigenous Terra Madre. The first Indigenous Terra Madre was hosted by the Sami people in their arctic homeland in 2011. This year the Khasi people took lead in hosting the event, which they referred to as International Mei-Ramew, meaning Mother Earth in their local language. With over 600 delegates from 140 tribes living in 58 countries, the event under the theme “The Future We Want: Indigenous Perspectives and Actions” provided an opportunity for indigenous peoples to exchange views on how to shape a future for food that is more fair, holistic and reverential of the land and its resources.

The event included a three day conference with discussion of issues related to indigenous peoples, agrobiodiversity and food sovereignty, followed by a field trip to  local communities and a public food fair.  In a short blog it is impossible to capture the rich and varied nature of this extraordinary event. However, the central place that agrobiodiversity plays in the biocultural identity of indigenous peoples was a theme that many speakers returned to over the three days. Whether they were discussing the challenge of climate change, strengthening wellbeing, improving health, meeting threats to pastoralism, or school feeding programmes, delegates recognized the importance of agricultural biodiversity in their lives. In the Plenary Session on “Agroecology and Agrobiodiversity in the Future We Want”, pannelist Toby Hodgkin (PAR Coordinator) emphasized how agricultural biodiversity is fundamental to agroecology and highlighted the need to conserve this important resource. Several indigenous delegates highlighted the importance of securing land tenure for supporting their role in conservation – if their land rights are protected, they will conserve biodiversity as they maintain their traditional livelihoods.

Citrus indica  from Garo Hills, in Meghalaya, north-east India, displayed at the Mei-Ramew festival, Shillong, November 2015 / Photo credit: Dunja Mijatovic

Citrus indica from Garo Hills, in Meghalaya, north-east India, displayed at the Mei-Ramew festival, Shillong, November 2015 / Photo credit: Dunja Mijatovic

North-east India is remarkably rich in crop diversity. An exhibition was organized by PAR together with Bioversity International and a number of partners to showcase this diversity and approaches to conserve and secure its benefits. Thanks to the participation of the National Bureau of Plant Genetic Resources (NBPGR), the exhibition featured a display of rice, taro and citrus varieties from north-east India, which is a centre of diversity for these crops. The presence of wild relatives of citrus suggests these fruits were first domesticated in the region and a protected area (the Nokrek Man and Biosphere Reserve) has been established to safeguard this diversity, setting a leading global example. In addition to the citrus, taro and over 60 varieties of rice on display from Meghalaya, Nagaland, Assam and Manipur, other local crops included in the exhibit were Job’s Tears, buckwheat, perilla and maize. The maize diversity, which is especially rich, showed just how much an introduced  crop can sometimes flourish and diversify in new parts of the world. The exhibition also displayed results from PAR’s work on land use and agrobiodiversity, which includes the Lyngngnam community in Meghalaya as one of eight focus communities in partnership with the North East Slow Food and Agrobiodiversity Society (NESFAS). Displays by Bioversity International and M.S. Swaminathan Research Foundation on promoting nutritious minor millets and community gene banks, provided examples on how to manage and enhance the use of agricultural biodiversity using participatory, community-based approaches.

Those of us who were fortunate enough to participate in Indigenous Terra Madre had our minds opened, our perspectives widened, our thoughts stimulated and our palates excited in the company of people from around the world who truly recognize the importance of conserving and using all types of agrobiodiversity. As the congress acknowledged, the Sustainable Development Goals Target 2.6 and the Global Aichi Target 13 both recognize the importance of conservation of agrobiodiversity and useful wild species. It was a remarkable opportunity to meet with the peoples who will play a major part in achieving these targets.