Indigenous Knowledge, a Lesson for a Sustainable Food Future

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BCFN Yes winner Geraldin Lengai is researching bio-integrated crop management among tomato farmers in Tanzania. Credit: Busani Bafana / IPS

MILAN, Italy, Dec 4 2019 (IPS) – Local knowledge systems rooted in traditional practices and culture passed down generations provide sustainable solutions to food and nutritional insecurity on the back of climate change, a conference heard this week.


More than 370 million indigenous people, living in 70 countries, make up just 6 percent of the global population, according to the United Nations. But their food systems are models of diet diversity, innovation, conservation and local adaptability the world can benefit from in the face of risks such as climate change, delegates at the 10th Forum on Food and Nutrition convened by the Barilla Centre heard.

Speaking at a panel session on Preserving Mother Earth, Food Culture, Local Traditions and Biodiversity, Mattia Prayer Galletti, lead technical specialist on indigenous peoples and tribal issues at IFAD, said indigenous peoples have a connection with nature. They understand the concept of sustainability and the protection of natural resources.

IFAD has promoted an Indigenous People’s Forum to foster dialogue and consultant among indigenous people organisations and IFAD member countries. Through this Forum, IFAD has supported the economic empowerment of indigenous people, particularly women and the youth. IFAD has also contributed to the improvement in livelihoods of indigenous peoples through the Indigenous Peoples Assistance Facility which has provided small grants of up to US$50 000 for development projects.

He said indigenous food systems provide food security and biodiversity because indigenous communities have cultivated resilient foods, making them ideal in adapting to climate change. This despite the growing threats indigenous communities have faced, including marginalisation, loss of their ancestral lands and the destruction of their way of life.

Dali Nolasco Cruz, an advisory board member of the Indigenous Terra Madre (ITM) from Mexico. Credit: Busani Bafana / IPS

Dali Nolasco Cruz, an advisory board member of the Indigenous Terra Madre (ITM) from Mexico, concurred saying indigenous people are being criminalised and killed by big powers that are extracting natural resources in their lands.

“We need alliances, we need to fight for Mother Earth,” Cruz said, “We need to transform our livelihoods by protecting the Earth to help others.”

Indigenous Innovations for food security

Indigenous knowledge provides innovations researchers are convinced can provide models for promoting resilience in our current food systems. Several researchers shared their on-going work on this.

Martina Occelli, a PhD student at the Santa Anna School of Advanced Studies in Pisa, is undertaking multidisciplinary research on how smallholder farmer’s collective knowledge is shaping soil productivity in the Gera Gera region of Ethiopia among 300 smallholder farmers. The research has shown that collective knowledge within and between households which farmers learnt from their fathers was relevant in determining the soil ability, which is critical in food production and resilience.

Martina Occelli speaks at the 10th International Forum on Food and Nutrition. Credit: Busani Bafana / IPS

Occelli is a winner of 2018 BCFN Yes international multidisciplinary contest launched by the BCFN Foundation in 2012 to support research on promoting the intersection of food sustainability and environmental sustainability.

Geraldin Lengai, another BCFN Yes winner, is researching on enhancing sustainable agriculture through the adoption of bio-integrated crop management among tomato farmers in Tanzania comparing conventional and non-conventional farming methods. Her research expects to provide insights into the use of organic pesticide properties of ginger and turmeric – cash crops grown by farmers in Tanzania – in fighting pests and diseases in vegetables. Also, she has researched the efficacy of organic fertilisers such as goat manure and chicken manure on the productivity of the spice coriander and amaranthus, a plant cultivated as a vegetable.

“Sustainable agriculture is important because you need a doctor once in a while, but you need the farmer at least three times a day,” Lengai told IPS. “I believe people should have access to food that is safe and healthy. How we produce the food, process it and how the food reaches the end consumer is the business of sustainable agriculture, and my research is on crop protection because people use crop protection synthetically yet there are alternatives that nature has provides. Before synthetic pesticides, our forefathers used tobacco to control insects, and if we can look at other plants that have the same capacity, we can promote sustainable agriculture.”

Lengai said the benefits of manure has in producing vegetables and the near to zero cost for farmers who keep animals means farmers have a sustainable fertiliser for organic produce which is attractive for global markets. Citing the case of pesticides with the Kenya market for French beans, Lengai said organic produce had secured international markets which have traceability systems in place.

“Growing organic vegetables and using organic pesticides and fertilisers is a win-win for everybody for the environment, for the farmer for the consumer,” said Lengai. She added that synthetic pesticides are favoured because they are easy to apply and cheaper – but come at a cost to the environment and health.

 

Fixing the Business of Food

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Delegates grappled with getting the business of food right. Credit: Busani Bafana / IPS

MILAN, Italy, Dec 4 2019 (IPS) – Milan is the city where Leonardo da Vinci painted his iconic Last Supper. Frozen in time is the moment Christ told his disciples there was a traitor among them. Visitors to the painting can examine the expressions on the faces of the disciples and look the food they might have eaten – the bread and wine, and of course the spilt salt. As one delegate to the 10th International Forum on Food and Nutrition noted, the diet did not seem varied or healthy.


Several centuries later, with the spotlight firmly on the state of our planet, global warming, delegates grappled solutions for producing and consuming food, nutrition and the state of the earth. Taking centre stage was the question of the roles, activists, workers, businesses and leadership play in the food cycle.

Mario Monti, Senator for Life of the Italian Republic; articulated the challenge succinctly. The forum with the theme Fostering Business and Innovation while preserving Mother Earth he said, provided a “beautiful challenge” dedicated to securing food for people to inhabit the planet.

Ertharin Cousin, from the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, referred to a conundrum that while in the United States 1450 deals were signed across 1000 agri-food tech start-ups none of the businesses focused on addressing the challenges of low-income people.

It was clear from the presentation by Jeremy Oppenheim, Founder and Managing Partner, SYSTEMIQ the food system’s hidden costs amounting to $12 trillion, including food subsidies – that the food system is dysfunctional.

Many speakers alluded to resolving the conundrum involving complex interplays between activism; innovative business practice and digital innovation, financing and political commitment.

Changing the culture of business and financing of companies was considered a major consideration which needed change to fix the food system.

Ben Valk, Lead Food and Agriculture Benchmark, commented that, for example, there were solutions which reduce the pressure on land and therefore on deforestation.

“First things we should do is to start to implement those solutions,” he said, but added that it astonishing to that so little money was allocated towards the Sustainable Development Goals. Change was needed and money allocated to sport for, example, should be reduced to ensure the SDGs were achieved.

Charlotte Ersbøll, representing the United Nations Global Compact, commented that businesses should be aware that employees were committed to sustainable practices. She referred to a study done in the US where half of all the staff would accept a salary cut if they were if they could work for a more climate-friendly company. “And if you look at the millennials, it would be two thirds. And, and all of them were frustrated that they really didn’t see the companies following through and really taking the lead.”

Oppenheim concluded his presentation with a note of caution. People at the conference were the converted, people already finding and looking at solutions to food and nutrition.

“What we need to do is to take this room and have thousands of rooms of like this … The real opportunity is to take this agenda to seize it with both hands to translate it into massive business opportunities.”

 

Tradition and Technology Take Centre Stage at BCFN Food Forum

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Credit: Busani Bafana / IPS

MILAN, Italy, Dec 3 2019 (IPS) – A coffee producer will receive a cent and a half from a $2.50 cup of coffee. This one stark fact stood out as scientists, researchers, activists and grappled with solutions for change in food and nutrition practises, which would benefit the greater community.


While the solutions are many – slow food to artificial intelligence – it was clear that the delegates were united around one idea: Key to the solution is to ensure that the solutions need to be put in the hands of the broad community – not just in the hands of the powerful.

This also needs the commitment of every sector of society – from multi-national businesses to small scale local farmers.

This message was reinforced by Guido Barilla, founder of the Barilla Centre for Food and Nutrition at the 10th International Forum on Food and Nutrition. The forum had the theme of Fostering Business and Innovation while preserving Mother Earth.

He urged all stakeholders come together and educate on the importance of sustainable and virtuous food systems.

Professor Angelo Riccaboni agreed – cooperation between institutions, corporations, NGOs, philanthropic institution and academia was crucial for changing the trajectory.

Ertharin Cousin reminded delegates that biologist Paul Ehrlich once predicted large scale famines, particularly in India – but through innovation in the agricultural sector and community of actors involved in the Green Revolution, these grim visions were overcome.

Even so, she said the challenges are huge – and research suggests that by 2030 half the world’s population would suffer from some form of malnutrition, whether from a shortage of food or micronutrient deficiency.

Delegates debate at the 10th International Forum on Food and Nutrition in Milan. Credit: Busani Bafana / IPS

Jeremy Oppenheim, founder of Systemiq, who used the example of the cup of coffee pointed out how starkly pointed out how unequal the chain of production, processing, distribution, consumption and the way it is disposed of requires a radical overall.

The mixed signals were unhelpful, he said.

“We’re sending all these mixed signals, every single day to people … In the next in the run up to Christmas again in the UK, food companies, and retailers will spend, 100 billion pounds – advertising largely unhealthy food.”

Mattia Galletti , IFAD Technical specialist, pointed out 70 million people in the world belong to different indigenous people and in studies in the Amazon, for example, where indigenous farming is practised there was no deforestation.

Carlo Petrini, Founder and President, Slow Food International, agreed. Local communities had the solution in their “DNA” and had essential answers to the critical problems of climate change.

“The biggest challenge today is climate change, and politicians are still ridiculing youth asking for climate justice,” says Petrini.

However, he warned that the economy needed to change – one that was rooted in local communities and not in the hands of a few. It was only then that sustainable development could be achieved. Any other solution was just “blah, blah, blah”, he warned.

However, Galina Peycheva-Miteva suggested that the “idea of farming” had to change.

“Farming is not considered prestigious by the young generation. We have to modernize and digitize farming. We have to make farming attractive again.”

If the return to traditional technologies and systems was a big discussion, so too was the use of modern technologies and artificial intelligence as a solution to food security and diet. The technology could be harnessed for everything from testing the soil, to encouraging people, through the use of Apps, to follow healthy diets.

What is clear, though, is that there needs to be a shared agenda for the future.

“We need everyone to work together, we must travel the same road. We need lawmakers to enact clear rules,” Barilla concluded.

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