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Why Indigenous Traditional Knowledge is Key for adopting Regenerative Agriculture

Land has always played a central role in the history of societies. Property rights have become central to the development of our world. For that, numerous treaties, laws and conventions have been created to regulate the relationship between humans and land to foster economic growth. However, little attention to the rights of native indigenous peoples and farmers/peasants was given. 

It seems odd, as these are the first settlers of the land. Their relation to nature is such that they have incorporated it into their culture and worshipped it as a god. As you probably already know, world leaders have long been ignoring the finite nature of Earth’s ecosystem supply, placing all their efforts on the continuous growth of economies, disregarding the holy link between land and humans.

Image: Vitória Venturella

What we can learn from traditional knowledge

A holistic approach to natural resources taking into account indigenous traditional knowledge would better suit the management of those assets to foster not only the economic growth of society but to tackle changing temperatures around the globe. By securing their rights to land and biological resources and giving them a voice, the West would guarantee that this precious wisdom won’t disappear. Better yet, we could learn from the ancient knowledge of native peoples, farmers and peasants – those who produce food and have an intense relation to land and natural resources.

To regenerate our ecosystems, we need to reconnect with nature and native peoples know the way. By implementing public policies that recognize the importance of traditional knowledge, western society would be reestablishing the lost link with nature. Regenerative agriculture is based on those traditions and is a perfect and exciting solution!  It would also empower the population around the world to not only have a constant flow of food – food security – but to not be constrained by the agribusiness industry that enforces into us the same four crops and consumes millions of litres of mineral water every year – food sovereignty.

Natural resource management from an indigenous perspective

The food sovereignty paradigm is more relevant to vulnerable populations to secure their rights to food and natural resources. Western agricultural knowledge must be questioned. It has long been disassociated from the ancient indigenous peoples’ and peasants’ knowledge only to focus on profit. From what we learn, it seems that monoculture is the rule but it is exactly the contrary. For most of agriculture’s history humans have mixed crops, animals and trees to get the best results each harvest. 

Elevating the voices of indigenous people is necessary to tackle food insecurity and access to natural resources! Peasants and indigenous peoples possess an ancient relation to nature that reflects in their religion, political institutions and cultural traditions. As long as their rights in this field are secure, nature will be granted good care. Sustainable management of resources based on ancient indigenous knowledge will enable economic growth and regenerate ecosystems.

Image: Jordan Donaldson

From subjects of protection to peoples of rights, peasants and the indigenous population have been receiving more attention from international institutions that seem to have noticed the importance of these actors in the conservation of the environment.

The United Nations have recognized the rights of indigenous people and peasants/farmers through the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Peasants and Other People Working in Rural Areas. Although those documents mark a milestone in Human Rights history, there is much to be done to give voice to the most vulnerable and for Western society to learn from their traditional knowledge.

Photo by Ivars Utināns on Unsplash

Community-based ownership creates shared benefits 

The relationship between humans, land and biological resources is ancient. Land is central to the lives of most humans. Historically, the role of those actors in society is as important as any other modern institution. Due to the importance of land, the Government plays a significant role in land management. Secure rights to land and biological resources are important to achieve many of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) implemented by the United Nations as part of the 2030 Agenda. Ownership over a piece of land means having rights over its biological resources. If land tenure is guaranteed, so is access to biological resources.

Biological assets are essential to the livelihoods of all populations. Land ownership is proven to increase the access to these assets, which have direct impact on social, economic, cultural, political and environmental aspects of society. A community-based ownership influences natural resources, facilitating the management simply because there are more people to keep an eye on resources. Every individual will benefit from the proper care of the land and its resources. Kenya is an outstanding example of the implementation of community-based land rights and their benefits, having implemented in its Constitution this kind of framework.

Community-based land rights is an innovative approach to land management that highlights the link between land and biological resources. The idea is to enable vulnerable populations to secure ownership over land to use their natural resources by implementing a different land management system.

Illegal land grabbing

A study done by “Fundação Oswaldo Cruz (FIOCRUZ)” on the impacts of land constriction on the Yanomami (a native indigenous tribe that lives in the Amazon) population during the COVID-19 pandemic highlights how the lack of public policies has worsened the livelihoods of these people. Land invasion by miners and loggers, and lack of proper oversight of land by public authorities have prevented the Yanomami from having access to land and biological resources. Today, 8 out of 10 indigenous children have nutrition issues that can be linked to land constriction.

Illegal land grabbing has increased since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic and a movement of indigenous peoples to big cities has arisen. This highlights how indigenous people’s land rights are fragile. If there is no support from authorities the only option is to search for opportunities in urbanized environments

Photo by ja ma on Unsplash

Food security or food sovereignty?

The concept of food security is really simple, it refers to “ensuring that all people have access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food to meet their dietary needs and their food preferences and ensure an active, healthy life”. Access to natural resources has an extremely strong relationship with food security and environmental justice.

The food security paradigm goes beyond ensuring access to both biological resources and healthy food. It involves the self-determination of populations to sow and eat whatever they want. This concept can be defined as food sovereignty, which adds to the discussion a critical perspective of how the food system is established. Centuries of trade liberalization, privatization of natural resources and commercial food commodities flow to the Global North have built an intrinsically unequal food system where the most vulnerable are forced to abide by the needs of rich countries

The Final Declaration of the World Forum on Food Security, held in Havana, Cuba, on September 7 of 2001 brings a crystal clear point of view regarding this issue. The debate around access to natural resources and food security has evolved. However, little attention has been thrown to the fact that native peoples, peasants and farmers need to have their food sovereignty secured if world authorities want to tackle the food security issue.


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