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Cultural Indicator's of Indigenous Peoples Food and Agro-ecological Systems

Purpose: The purpose of the paper is to contribute to the development, collection and use of cultural indicators of Indigenous Peoples’ food and agro-ecological systems for policy, planning and advocacy purposes.
Audience: The intended users of this paper are Indigenous Peoples’ Organizations (IPOs), Government departments responsible for data collection and statistics, UN agencies, NGOs, and other development actors.

Main issues: Globally, there are some 370 million Indigenous Peoples representing at least 5,000 different linguistic groups in more than 70 countries. Indigenous Peoples comprise about 5.5 percent of the world’s population, yet they are disproportionately represented among the poor and food insecure, in both developed and developing countries. Indigenous Peoples’ relationship with their traditional lands and territories forms a core part of their identity and spirituality and is deeply rooted in their culture, language and history. Since land and its resources form the basis of Indigenous Peoples’ subsistence activities, losing control of these undermines their food and livelihood security and can threaten their survival as peoples. Furthermore, Indigenous Peoples' overall health, well-being and cultural continuity are directly related to their ability to eat traditional foods and continue their traditional food practices. These traditional foods and food practices are deeply intertwined with their cultures and value systems, and play an important role in religious ceremonies and spirituality, as well as in songs, dances and myths. While their agro-ecological and food systems offer some signs of resilience and adaptation, a range of factors are increasingly threatening these systems and Indigenous Peoples’ well-being.

The development of, and agreement on, a set of indicators which are able to measure impacts, relationships and interactions between culture and food and agro-ecological systems, can promote improved understanding, transparency and accountability between Indigenous Peoples and those working to assist and support them. Specifically, they are helpful to:

• Enable indigenous peoples to monitor the impacts of some key trends and development interventions on their lives;

• Assist public services, development practitioners, governments, NGOs and UN agencies to understand, recognize and respect dimensions of Indigenous Peoples’ livelihoods that are important for them;

• Provide decision-makers with the key facts regarding the cultural dimensions of Indigenous Peoples’ food and agro-ecological systems that are essential for sound and appropriate policy design;

• Ensure consistency between activities, goals, outcomes and a minimum acceptable standard in the policies and programmes that are intended to benefit Indigenous Peoples, ultimately forming the basis of a more rights-based, culturally-respectful partnership model for development;

• Ensure legitimacy and accountability to all stakeholders by identifying good practices, facilitating lesson-learning as well as measuring progress and achievements.

The paper reviews Indigenous Peoples’ rights, including their right to food, as enshrined in various UN Declarations, Conventions and Covenants, and summarizes the current work undertaken by UN and some other international organizations as well as some national agencies in using cultural and related indicators that are being or could be applied to Indigenous Peoples.

A modified version of the Sustainable Livelihoods framework is proposed as a tool for understanding the relationships between culture and food and agro-ecological systems and the ways these interact with the natural environment and the policy and institutional context to influence livelihood, food security and well-being outcomes.


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Citation / Reference: 
Woodley. et. al. (2008). Cultural Indicator's of Indigenous food and agro-ecological systems. Rome, Italy. Electronic Publishing Policy and Support Branch, Communication Division. FAO