Dear Friends and Colleagues
The Potential of Territories of Life to Foster and Promote Food Sovereignty
More than 50% of the terrestrial surface is under some form of customary collective tenure or claim. Drawing on practical examples from eight countries in Africa, Asia, Europe, and Latin America, the Policy Brief Nourishing Life. Territories of Life and Food Sovereignty focuses on the contributions that the territories and areas governed, managed and conserved by custodian indigenous peoples and local communities — ‘ICCAs – territories of life’ — make to food sovereignty and how, in turn, food sovereignty contributes to the conservation of biodiversity and socio-ecological resilience in forests, wetlands, grasslands, and coastal zones. (Item 1)
The eight cases examined are “free from hunger” due to the capacity of the communities to organise themselves and govern and manage their territories of life (Item 2). The communities provide food for themselves, and often also income for their own broader livelihoods needs, by building upon local knowledge and skills and working with, rather than against, the local natural potential. Importantly, in addition to being ecologically fitting, the relevant food systems (production, processing, consumption, waste recycling) are run, valued, managed and controlled locally. Taken together, the cases also highlight the strength of local biological and cultural diversity for community resilience, self-organisation, and autonomy. The everyday practice of food sovereignty is a catalyst for the creation of culturally appropriate, inclusive, and community-controlled governance systems. Thus, territories of life can play an important role in fostering food security and food sovereignty.
The authors encourage civil society organisations/networks to strengthen their alliance and collaboration in ecological action, governance, economic action, social inclusion and gender justice, and education. Ecological action would include supporting nature friendly, climate friendly, decentralised food systems that sustain high levels of biological diversity in ICCAs-territories of life.
For legislators, policymakers and government officials, the authors recommend two main strategic directions of work: (1) halting the drivers of disaster and (2) enhancing the positive forces that provide powerful and viable alternatives. This includes recognizing indigenous peoples and local communities as key actors to conserve biodiversity, mitigate and adapt to climate change and achieve food sovereignty in territories of life and resolve to actively support them in political, social and economic terms.
With best wishes,
NOURISHING LIFE – TERRITORIES OF LIFE & FOOD SOVEREIGNTY
“Local communities on all continents are being displaced and impoverished by the combined actions of top down, ‘people-out’ fortress conservation and the expansion of industrial agriculture. This silent violence can be reversed by strengthening self-determining indigenous and community conserved areas as well as local food sovereignty. This is all about re-inventing conservation and development for a just and sustainable world”. – Michel Pimbert
Drawing on practical examples from eight countries in Africa, Asia, Europe, and Latin America, the Policy Brief Nourishing Life. Territories of Life and Food Sovereignty is the outcome of a long term collaboration between the ICCA Consortium, an international association of indigenous peoples and local communities that govern, manage and conserve their territories of life (ICCAs), and the Centre for Agroecology Water and Resilience (CAWR) at Coventry University.
This Policy Brief focuses on the contributions that the territories and areas governed, managed and conserved by custodian indigenous peoples and local communities — ‘ICCAs – territories of life’ — make to food sovereignty and how, in turn, food sovereignty contributes to the conservation of biodiversity and socio-ecological resilience in forests, wetlands, grasslands, and coastal zones. Food sovereignty and the conservation of nature’s diversity are enhanced when self-determining communities affirm the human rights of peasants, fisherfolks, nomads, and indigenous peoples to govern and manage their food systems and the territories they are embedded in. Territories of life and food sovereignty can thus be mutually supportive in virtuous cycles.
The authors of this multimedia publication suggest that the movement to add visibility, strength and recognition to ICCAs—territories of life and the movement to foster food sovereignty throughout the world may find it advantageous to engage in knowledge sharing, enhanced mutual support, and joint transformative actions. This Policy Brief lists and discusses specific options to advance that cooperation.
The release of this Policy Brief coincides with the first year anniversary of the adoption of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Peasants and Other People Working in Rural Areas (UNDROP). Significantly, this UN instrument recognizes peoples’ right to land, seeds, natural resources, and food sovereignty via agroecology, local markets, local seeds, participatory decision-making, gender justice, and the transition to resilient and sustainable food systems.
NOURISHING LIFE – TERRITORIES OF LIFE & FOOD SOVEREIGNTY
M.P. and G. Borrini-Feyerabend
The eight cases above do not allow us to reach any statistically significant conclusions. However, they tell the story of what does exist and point at what is likely to be more widespread and bring important benefits. Reflecting upon these eight territories of life— all possessing to a good extent the characteristics illustrated in Box 1 – we can identify some broadly shared elements in common with the principles of food sovereignty listed in Box 2.
All cases include:
All cases we have examined are “free from hunger” thanks to the capacity of the communities to organise themselves and govern and manage their territories of life. The communities provide food for themselves, and often also income for their own broader livelihoods needs, by building upon local knowledge and skills and working with, rather than against, the local natural potential. Importantly, in addition to being ecologically fitting, the relevant food systems (production, processing, consumption, waste recycling) are run, valued, managed and controlled locally. Taken together, the cases also highlight the strength of local biological and cultural diversity for community resilience, self-organisation, and autonomy. They allow us to understand biocultural diversity as an emancipating factor against the homogenization of food by industrial agriculture and the conservation of nature relegated to protected areas established by coercion and control.
Although most case examples we have illustrated do not discuss internal equity in the custodian communities or trade within the communities and with outsiders, we see that their food systems offer practical illustrations of principles adopted by the Via Campesina movement (see Box 2). Most notably, we see an active resistance to the destructive elements of modernity (e.g. fishing by motorboats and monofilament nets, mining and oil industries, major roads, nonendogenous seeds and breeds, uncontrolled extraction of resources by outsiders, and even military penetration and occupation) while non-destructive elements are rather easily incorporated.
Are all territories of life illustrated above also examples of food sovereignty? We believe they broadly are, although with different levels of autonomy, security and sustainability and confronted by different threats. In fact, they may all be examples of community organising and struggles rather than descriptions of perfectly accomplished situations.
Does that mean that communities that enjoy a level of self-determination and are well organised to govern, manage and conserve their territories of life can/are likely to achieve their own food sovereignty? If complex and rich phenomena like those we have described can be meaningfully correlated, we are confident of answering that yes, it appears so.
Conversely, we also see that the measure of food sovereignty enjoyed by a community is likely to contribute to, and strengthen, its political innovation and sense of autonomy and identity and its desire to collectively govern and take responsibility for its territory of life (sustainable self-determination). Indeed, the process of achieving food sovereignty is an important pathway to rekindling community governance for autonomy and self-determination. The everyday practice of food sovereignty is a catalyst for the creation of culturally appropriate, inclusive, and community controlled governance systems. This is especially true in ICCAs— territories of life that have a history of struggles against colonization, racism, and the violence of externally imposed resource extraction or conservation and development models. Figure 1 offers a schematic representation of this relation of mutual support and synergy.
Remarkably, communities who derive a good part of their own food from their territories of life seem to naturally embrace production processes that merge with stewardship of the natural environment. This includes integrating trees with livestock and crops (agrosylvo-pastoral farming), producing food from forests (agroforestry, forest gardens, beekeeping – including the protection and management of native bees), growing several crops together in one plot (polycultures, home gardens), integrating aquaculture with tree/ crop cultivation, or gathering food from improved and restored ecosystems (fishing and gathering with appropriate rules after suitable regeneration). By merging into natural ecosystems, such food provisioning agroecosystems in human managed landscapes can be productive, pest resistant, nutrient conserving, and more resilient to shocks and stresses. Moreover, food processing based on local knowledge and indigenous technologies contribute to culturally specific gastronomies that minimise food losses and waste. Short food chains and proximity relations between food producers and consumers also minimise the carbon and ecological footprints of resident communities. Thus, local webs of production and exchange help to sustain the territories of life and nature in general.
Food production, processing and distribution can even help sustain ecological functions like pollination, purification of water, and climate regulation that are not only critical for food security and nutrition but also for the health and well-being of communities, and the health of ecosystems and the biosphere.
This is so because community-based food production, processing and distribution can generate and sustain a vast array of ecosystem, species and genetic diversity within and around ICCAs—territories of life. For example, by building terraces, swales, tree belts, hedges, and ponds to conserve soil and water, or even by carrying-out rotational farming under suitable conditions, farmers’ individual and collective action enriches the ecological complexity and heterogeneity at different scales. Recent research also shows that some agroecological practices have a positive impact on the restoration of diverse plant soil microbiomes which are essential for productivity and sustainability.
Communities living in territories of life usually create a land use mosaic in which the landscape is subdivided into agricultural areas and wilder conserved biodiversity at multiple scales. This ‘natural matrix’ model sustains a variety of habitats and microenvironments and a diversity of wild species (e.g. algae, flowering plants, insects, amphibians, mammals, birds, reptiles) many of which are edible. Agriculture and food provisioning, thus, should never be assumed to be harmful to biodiversity. It is the kind of farming and land use that appears to matter.
As a matter of fact, different types of agricultural biodiversity (cultivated, reared and wild) are used by different people at different times and in different places, and contribute to livelihood strategies in a complex fashion. In this sense, the very distinction between cultivated and wild ecosystems and food systems can become blurred. In particular, wild resources are extremely important for the food, medicine and livelihood security of indigenous peoples and peasant communities– especially women and children. The mean use of wild foods by agricultural and forager communities in 22 countries of Asia and Africa (36 studies) is 90–100 species per location. In countries such as Ethiopia, India and Kenya aggregate country estimates can reach 300–800 wild species consumed. And even in countries of the industrial North, as illustrated in our case example from Spain, gathering shellfish from the wild is deeply appreciated.
Modern agroecology fully recognises its roots in the collective knowledge, practices, and ecological rationale of indigenous and peasant agriculture(s) in territories of life. Possibly, however, there is room to better recognise that the very existence of territories of life play a crucial role in securing local livelihoods, ensuring the right to food and promoting food sovereignty. This is so because territories of life promote and sustain community self determination, and the collective work toward food and livelihood security, as well as the well-being of people and nature. The collective dimension of territories of life adds historical and cultural depth and uniqueness to the principles identified by the Via Campesina movement. In fact, a measure of autonomy and self-governance appears as the feature from which everything else derives, and which could not be achieved plot-by-plot and family-by-family alone. Sustainable livelihoods and food sovereignty need enhanced consciousness, an intergenerational transmission of knowledge, skills and institutions, and the strength to assert one’s own values and lifestyles. The collective dimension of territories of life ideally provides that strength and an enabling context to limit or reverse the social and ecological degradation that accompanies much of today’s dominant development and conservation models.
Similarly, while land rights and conservation advocates recognise the immense value of agrobiodiversity and the traditional knowledge embedded in culture-rich ways of relating to specific territories and drawing sustenance from them, there is room to better recognise that the processes and struggles towards food sovereignty play a crucial role in sustaining ecosystems, and territories of life. The bond that communities have with their territories and their own willingness and capacity to organise, to govern, manage and conserve them cannot be divorced from their own capacity to produce, process, distribute and consume food locally and sustainably. Food is crucial to culture and identity and those are essential characteristics of communities that do not let themselves to be easily overcome by destructive forces of external or internal origin.
This said, we should also note that the communities we have illustrated in the case examples have not been overwhelmed by destructive forces, nor been annihilated, or totally subjugated and controlled by violent means. Neither autonomy nor agency exists in a vacuum and powerful forces affect community choices and actions. Unfortunately, no amount of community organisation, self-awareness, traditional knowledge or willingness to remain independent and care for one’s own environment can resist the overwhelming forces that modern states and their allies can set in motion. History testifies to innumerable crimes against nature, cultures and humanity, and the desire to be positive and forward looking should not blind us to the potential for destructiveness and greed that exist in both some individuals and some social institutions.
In line with the examples, analysis and arguments presented here, the ICCA Consortium offers the following recommendations for communities and civil society organisations and networks as well as legislators, policymakers and conservation practitioners, who wish to support the expansion of food sovereignty and ICCAs— territories of life.
6.1 Recommendations for civil society organisations & networks
Given the converging goals and concerns of civil society organisations and networks engaged in the current separate movement for territories of life and movement for food sovereignty, we encourage their alliance and collaboration in areas such as:
6.2 Recommendations for legislators, policymakers & government officials
Conscious human beings facing the disastrous prospect of a planet progressively hotter, less diverse, less sustainable and more unjust, and where more and more people are hungry and desperate need to think clearly and act systemically. We recommend two main strategic directions of work: 1. halting the drivers of disaster and 2. enhancing the positive forces that provide powerful and viable alternatives for a sane society.98
Halting the drivers of disaster
Enhancing the positive forces that provide powerful & sane alternatives