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Mountain communities stress the importance of biocultural heritage for global food security

Matt Wright
15 Feb 2019
Ahead of an intergovernmental forum on biodiversity and food security, the International Network of Mountain Indigenous Peoples has published a report highlighting the importance of biodiversity and indigenous knowledge for climate adaptation.

A new report from the International Network of Mountain Indigenous Peoples (INMIP) flags the growing impacts of climate change on mountain communities and the vital importance of indigenous stewardship for conserving and enhancing genetic resources for climate change adaptation.

The report has been published ahead of the 17th meeting of the Food and Agriculture Organisation's Commission on Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (CGRFA) in Rome from 18-22 February 2019. CGRFA works to conserve biodiversity and promote its role in supporting global food security and sustainable development. 

The new INMIP report documents a 2018 learning exchange that brought together indigenous people representing more than 50 mountain communities of South, Central and Southeast Asia, the Pacific, Latin America and Africa. 

The exchange took place in Kyrgyzstan, a centre of origin for walnuts, apples and apricots. It included a 'walking workshop' through Kyrgyzstan’s mountain ecosystems and exchanges with communities managing wild walnut forests, organic farmers, and nomadic pastoralists in the Suusamyr Valley. 

During the event community and non-governmental organisation representatives, scientists and donors shared traditional knowledge and science on climate change adaptation and the scaling-up of effective innovations that enhance biodiversity, ecosystem integrity and cultural resilience. 

Mountain communities have domesticated many of today’s food crops and play a critical role in nurturing evolving and co-evolving crop populations, ensuring gene flows between resilient crop wild relatives and on-farm varieties for high nutritional and resilience value. 

Their continued stewardship of these vital genetic resources is facing unprecedented threats as farming systems become more uniform, land and natural resource rights are infringed and young people migrate to urban areas.

Climate change is expected to put an added strain on food production: increasingly, extreme and unpredictable weather is impacting the crops of mountain smallholder farmers.

Learning exchange participants discussed strategies for conserving genetic resources and reviving traditional crops that are often climate resilient, as well as supporting community-based resource management for climate adaptation.

Participants on the International Network of Mountain Indigenous Peoples gather during the walking workshop in Suusamyr pasture, Kyrgyzstan (Photo: Alan Zulch)

INMIP communities are establishing biocultural heritage territories in a number of countries to sustain the interlinked traditional knowledge, biodiversity, landscapes, cultural and spiritual values and customary laws of indigenous peoples. These include Peru’s Potato Park, an Apple Park and Wheat Park in Tajikistan; a millet ‘ark’ in Taiwan; and biocultural heritage territories in the Eastern Himalayas in India and Yunnan, China.  

The Kyrgyzstan workshop culminated in the Suusamyr Declaration, which emphasises the importance of indigenous wisdom for living in harmony with nature, and calls on parties to the Paris Agreement to support the efforts of indigenous farmers to protect biocultural landscapes.

The FAO Commission on Genetic Resources is the only permanent forum for governments to discuss and negotiate matters specifically relevant to biological diversity for food and agriculture.

This month’s meeting will discuss the role of genetic resources in food security, nutrition, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and climate change mitigation and adaptation. It is expected to launch the report on the State of the World’s Biodiversity for Food and Agriculture and discuss proposals for a related Global Action Plan.

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