Hired as day labourers, Dzao women clear a hillside for the construction of a new road in Hoang Su Phi, Vietnam | Credit: IFAD - Photo: 2013

Indigenous Peoples Find A New Dialogue Forum

By R. Nastranis | IDN-InDepth NewsReport

ROME (IDN) – The International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), a specialized agency of the United Nations, has opened a new chapter in its longstanding engagement with indigenous peoples, majority of whom live in rural areas and face the dual challenges of poverty and marginalization. They were offered an important platform of dialogue at the first meeting of the Indigenous Peoples’ Forum at IFAD.

There are more than 370 million self-identified indigenous peoples in some 70 countries around the world. In Latin America alone there are more than 400 groups, each with a distinct language and culture. But the biggest concentration of indigenous peoples is in Asia and the Pacific – amounting to some 70 per cent of the total.

The UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, adopted by the General Assembly on September 13, 2007, establishes a universal framework of minimum standards for the survival, dignity, well-being and rights of the world’s indigenous peoples.

The Declaration addresses individual and collective rights; cultural rights and identity; and rights to education, health, employment and language. It outlaws discrimination against indigenous peoples and promotes their full and effective participation in all matters that concern them. It also ensures their right to remain distinct and to pursue their own priorities in economic, social and cultural development. The International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples is observed on August 9 every year.

Participants in the Forum in Rome on February 11-12 – held in conjunction with the 36th session of IFAD’s Governing Council – maintained that indigenous peoples’ involvement in the design and implementation of IFAD-supported programmes and projects would make them more successful and sustainable in the long term. In effect, the participants said, self-determination in the realm of rural and agricultural development goes hand in hand with the preservation of indigenous culture and identity.

In the United Nations system as a whole, there are other vehicles for international discussion and action on the challenges faced by indigenous populations. Notably, the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues addresses indigenous issues related to economic and social development, culture, the environment, education, health and human rights. And preparations are under way for the World Conference on Indigenous Peoples, a high-level plenary meeting of the General Assembly to be held in New York in 2014.

But Antonella Cordone, who coordinates Indigenous and Tribal Issues at IFAD’s Policy and Technical Advisory Division, is convinced that among individual agencies and international financial institutions, the Forum in Rome was “unique in the UN family”. She added: “IFAD is the only organization to establish this kind of a platform for dialogue.”

The Indigenous Peoples’ Forum has been several years in the making. In September 2009, the Executive Board laid the groundwork for it by approving the Fund’s Policy on Engagement with Indigenous Peoples. The policy introduced the concept of establishing a forum as a platform for consultation between indigenous peoples’ representatives and IFAD. In February 2011, representatives of indigenous peoples’ organizations attended a workshop at IFAD headquarters to establish the structure and objectives of the forum.

Finally, to prepare for the Forum’s inaugural meeting, IFAD organized towards the close of 2012 three regional workshops in Africa, Asia and the Pacific, and Latin America and the Caribbean, in which the indigenous peoples’ organizations played an active role.

“What really struck me about the regional workshops was the diversity of the peoples involved, even within their regions and countries,” said Cordone, who attended all regional consultations. “The diversity of their cultures, their languages, their ways of life and their ancestral knowledge is a treasure for humanity,” she added. “And still, across the three workshops, there were so many commonalities, because indigenous peoples face common challenges to preserving their identity and culture, and keeping control over their territories and resources.”

Common messages

Cordone went on to note that indigenous peoples’ representatives articulated several common messages across the different regions. In each workshop, she said, they emphasized the importance of ensuring respect for their distinctive identities and called for effective participation in all development initiatives on their land.

Participants in at all three workshops also saw IFAD as a facilitator of policy dialogue on indigenous peoples’ issues. They said the Fund had a role to play in raising awareness of these issues within government ministries that implement the projects supported by IFAD in indigenous communities.

Indigenous peoples’ representatives at the workshops further suggested that the best practices developed by IFAD-funded projects should be more widely disseminated. The workshop for Asia and the Pacific, for instance, featured reviews of projects in India and the Philippines, citing successes that may be replicable in other regions – successes that hinge on linking technological and development progress with deeply ingrained indigenous peoples’ knowledge, values and traditions.

Cordone said the regional workshops highlighted the diversity not only of indigenous peoples’ cultures but of their livelihoods. While there are many small-scale farmers in indigenous communities, she noted, efforts to reduce rural poverty also have to address the needs of indigenous fishers, pastoralists, forest dwellers and artisans.

Moreover, indigenous farmers themselves require support that is tailored to their unique circumstances. In many rural areas, for example, indigenous peoples’ land tenure is tied to community land rather than individual property. In order to succeed, IFAD-funded projects must take that context into account.

Indigenous Peoples Assistance Facility

Another issue addressed in all of the regions was the need to build greater capacity in IFAD, its partners and indigenous peoples’ organizations, in order to scale up programmes and projects in indigenous peoples’ communities. In addition, participants globally stressed the value of funding from IFAD’s Indigenous Peoples Assistance Facility (IPAF), which provides grants of US$20,000 to US$50,000 to local projects designed and implemented by indigenous peoples and their organizations.

Some outstanding examples of such projects are to be found in Morocco where Indigenous communities are managing their own resources, the Philippines where tribal peoples of northern and central Mindanao make up 10 per cent of the island’s population are recovering the right to self-governance.

In Peru where an IPAF-funded project, ‘Recovery of Traditional Knowledge on Dietary and Medicinal Biodiversity in Quechua and Asháninka Communities’, collected and collated knowledge of dietary and medicinal plants from the two communities in the Selva Central region. Andean and Amazonian plants – 129 used in 94 specific medical applications – were systematically recorded.

The project, implemented by the Centre for Indigenous Cultures of Peru, also held a series of workshops in the communities on their intellectual property rights. Now men and women leaders of the Quechua and Asháninka communities understand law 27811, which protects their traditional knowledge of biological resources.

“When women learned about law 27811, they said it had been a mistake to give away their knowledge so easily,” says Bildar Tovar, an Asháninka woman from the Kivinaki community and the Amazonian Secretary in the Permanent Workshop of Indigenous Andean and Amazonian Women of Peru. “We have already been planning the first Asháninka botanical garden. It could be another way of recovering our resources, which are being lost. It’s a dream that opens up our minds and our spirits,” she adds. [IDN-InDepthNews – February 14, 2013]

2013 IDN-InDepthNews | Analysis That Matters

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