Indigenous Peoples Hold the Past and Future of Food in Their Hands
By Alejandro Argumedo
August 9 is the International Day of the World's Indigenous Peoples – a celebration of the uniqueness of the traditions of Quechua, Huli, Zapotec, and thousands of other cultures, but also of the universality of potatoes, bananas, beans, and the rest of the foods that nourish the world. These crops did not arise out of thin air. They were domesticated over thousands of years, and continue to be nurtured, by Indigenous people. On this day we give thanks to these cultures for the diversity of our food.
Yes, even in a globalized world and food system. Most diversity in crops – and livestock – is still found in the regions where they have been around longest, adapting to climatic extremes, pests, and diseases through millennia interaction with human cultures – as we have weathered our own storms and pandemics. Known as primary regions of crop and livestock diversity, these places are central to the present and future viability of food systems. They are also the homelands of many Indigenous peoples.
For centuries, crop diversity has enriched the world, but has been taken out of the hands of Indigenous people in doing so. That story is only beginning to shift as the rest of the world starts to give Indigenous farmers the respect they are due. Community initiatives like the Parque de la Papa (Potato Park), in the primary region of potato diversity in the Andes of Peru, are connecting with worldwide conservation efforts on the farmers' own terms.
Six Quechua communities established the Parque to ensure the survival of the thousands of traditional potato cultivars they grow. They then co-designed a unique agreement with the International Potato Center genebank in Lima and the nonprofit Asociacion ANDES to return 410 native potato varieties to the Parque communities. Scientists had collected these from the region's communities since the 1960s, but many had disappeared from farmers' fields in the recent decades. That first agreement led to more collaborative research and monitoring, and today the Parque's diversity is conserved in farmers' fields, in new community seedbanks, in the CIP genebank in Lima, and, as a final safety backup, 7,000 miles north in the Svalbard Global Seed Vault – where the Indigenous farmers who deposited them still retain their rights over their seeds.
Indigenous farmers and cooks in the primary regions of diversity are resilient. They know all about getting through trying times. Through it all, they have persisted: through loss of access to land and other resources; through industrialization, subsidies, and trade agreements that undermine rural livelihoods; through civil strife and political neglect. Often working in places of extreme topography, they have faced the most severe impacts of the climate catastrophe. This year they have been struck disproportionally, sometimes threatened in their very existence, by the COVID-19 pandemic.
In some countries, legislation finally respects their rights to traditional knowledge and livelihoods. Yet a larger transformation is still needed – to redress injustices, secure access to land, and generate a greater range of opportunities in food and agriculture.
I believe that a key agent of this transformation will be a global network that is already beginning to unite stewards of food traditions in primary regions of diversity. The potential is clear in the direct connections that Indigenous communities are making with chefs, civil society, and commercial endeavors to create – together – market opportunities for agriculturally resilient and nutritious local foods. It is encouraging that consumers are increasingly showing a willingness to try diverse foods, while recognizing the work of farming communities. A boom in community-based development and wider marketing of products made with local crop and livestock diversity is a small sign of the big shift coming.
Another emerging opportunity for Indigenous communities is the increased capacity to learn from the successes and challenges of others. While communities in primary regions of diversity often maintain a broad menu of domesticated and wild species, their food systems generally center on a few key species. Potatoes and quinoa in parts of the Andes; maize and beans in Mesoamerica; bananas and tubers in the highlands of Papua New Guinea: such emblematic foods can be pillars around which to co-organize global networks of custodians of agricultural biodiversity, building on existing networks of small-scale and Indigenous farmers. One such effort is hosted by the International Network for Mountain Indigenous Peoples. Inspired by the Parque de la Papa, it now includes communities in Bolivia, China, Ecuador, Ethiopia, Guatemala, India, Kenya, Mexico, Papua New Guinea, Peru, and Tajikistan, each organized around different emblematic Indigenous crops. With time, the initial focus on relatively "charismatic" crops can be leveraged to benefit other, less well-known species and their stewards, too.
I draw hope and excitement from seeing Indigenous communities achieve recognition in local, national, and international policy arenas, and watching them strengthen their work by seeking out collaborations based on mutual respect. That kind of collaboration can reach across dramatically different scales, from farmers' fields, homes, and tables, to community actions like local seedbanks, to the large public genebanks that make crop conservation a global effort, and a global good. Meanwhile, redressing the imbalances that disadvantage Indigenous communities, and undervalue the diversity they generate and maintain, will mean reframing this diversity and its engendering biocultural processes as central community assets.
Celebrating Indigenous people on August 9 is not just about having a party; it helps keeps diversity and community on their feet as globalization shifts the ground from under us all.
Alejandro Argumedo is Director of Programs and Andes Amazon Lead of Swift Foundation (www.swiftfoundation.org); he is a recognized indigenous peoples' food rights activist currently acting as the international coordinator of the International Network of Mountain Indigenous Peoples (INMIP).
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By Victoria Masterson
Using one of the world's problems to solve another is the philosophy behind a Norwegian start-up's mission to develop affordable housing from 100% recycled plastic.
Sustainable Homes<p>UN-Habitat says an <a href="https://unhabitat.org/un-habitat-aims-to-use-plastic-waste-to-support-housing-for-all" target="_blank">estimated 60% of people living in urban areas of Africa are in informal settlements</a>. At the same time, between 1990 and 2017, African countries imported around 230 metric tonnes of plastic, "which mostly ended up in dump sites creating a massive environmental challenge," the agency adds.</p><p>UN-Habitat deputy executive director, Victor Kisob, said the aim of the partnership with Othalo was to "promote adequate, sustainable and affordable housing for all."</p>
Artist's impression of an Othalo community, imagined by architect Julien De Smedt. Othalo<p>Othalo's process involves shredding plastic waste and mixing it with other elements, including non-flammable materials. Components are used to build up to four floors, with a home of 60 square metres using eight tons of recycled plastic. A factory with one production line can produce 2,800 housing units annually.</p><p>Following successful laboratory tests, Othalo's factory in Estonia has started producing components to build three demonstration homes for Kenya's capital, Nairobi; Yaoundé, the capital of Cameroon and Dakar, the capital of Senegal.</p><p>Othalo founder Frank Cato Lahti has been developing and testing the technology since 2016 in partnership with <a href="https://www.sintef.no/en/" target="_blank">SINTEF</a>, a 70-year-old independent research organization in Trondheim, Norway, and experts at Norway's <a href="https://en.uit.no/startsida" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">University of Tromsø</a>.</p>
Othalo founder Frank Cato Lahti. Othalo<p>Almost <a href="https://www.un.org/development/desa/publications/2018-revision-of-world-urbanization-prospects.html" target="_blank">seven out of every 10 people in the world are expected to live in urban areas by 2050</a>. More than 90% of this growth will take place in Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the Caribbean.</p><p>"In the absence of effective urban planning, the consequences of this rapid urbanization will be dramatic," UN-Habitat warns.</p><p>Lack of proper housing and growth of slums, inadequate and outdated infrastructure, escalating poverty and unemployment, and pollution and health issues, are just some of the effects.</p><p>Mindsets, policies, and approaches towards urbanization need to change for the growth of cities and urban areas to be turned into opportunities that will leave nobody behind, UN-Habitat says.</p>
Pioneers of Change<p>Reimagining cities and communities for greater resilience and sustainability was a key topic at the<a href="https://www.weforum.org/events/pioneers-of-change-summit-2020" target="_blank"> World Economic Forum's Pioneers of Change Summit 2020</a>.</p><p>The digital event brought together innovators and stakeholders from around the world to explore solutions to the challenges facing enterprises, governments and society.</p><p>Opening the summit, <a href="https://www.weforum.org/events/pioneers-of-change-summit-2020/sessions/opening-plenary-8f731cbc65" target="_blank">Stephan Mergenthaler, the Forum's Head of Strategic Intelligence and a member of the Executive Committee</a>, said: "We need to change the way we produce, the way we live and interact in our cities to make this transition to net-zero emissions a reality…</p><p>"And as this year has illustrated so dramatically, we need to make every effort that we keep populations healthy, if we want to avoid jeopardizing all this progress."</p><p><em>Reposted with permission from </em><em><a href="https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2020/11/un-africa-recycled-plastic-housing/" target="_blank">World Economic Forum</a>.</em><a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/r/entryeditor/2649069252#/" target="_self"></a></p>
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By Dolf Gielen and Morgan Bazilian
John Kerry helped bring the world into the Paris climate agreement and expanded America's reputation as a climate leader. That reputation is now in tatters, and President-elect Joe Biden is asking Kerry to rebuild it again – this time as U.S. climate envoy.
Energy Is at the Center of the Climate Challenge<p>The <a href="https://science2017.globalchange.gov/chapter/1/" target="_blank">effects of climate change</a> are already evident across the globe, from <a href="https://theconversation.com/100-degrees-in-siberia-5-ways-the-extreme-arctic-heat-wave-follows-a-disturbing-pattern-141442" target="_blank">extreme heat waves</a> to <a href="https://science2017.globalchange.gov/chapter/12/" target="_blank">sea level rise</a>. But while the challenge is daunting, there is hope. Solar and wind power have become the <a href="https://www.irena.org/publications/2020/Jun/Renewable-Power-Costs-in-2019" target="_blank">cheapest forms of power generation globally</a>, and technology progress and innovation continue apace to support a transition to clean energy.</p><p>In the U.S. under a Biden administration, long-term national climate legislation will depend on who controls the Senate, and that won't be clear until after two run-off elections in Georgia in January.</p><p>But there is no shortage of <a href="https://www.bloomberg.com/features/2020-biden-climate-change-advice/" target="_blank">ideas for ways Biden</a> could still take action even if his proposals are blocked in Congress. For example, he could use executive orders and direct government agencies to tighten regulations on greenhouse gas emissions; increase research and development in clean energy technologies; and empower states to exceed national standards, <a href="https://www.reuters.com/article/us-autos-emissions-california/defying-trump-california-locks-in-vehicle-emission-deals-with-major-automakers-idUSKCN25D2CH" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">as California did in the past with auto emission standards</a>. A focus on a just and equitable transition for communities and people affected by the decline of fossil fuels will also be key to creating a sustainable transition.</p><p>The U.S. position as the world's largest oil and gas producer and consumer creates political challenges for any administration. U.S. forays into European energy security are often treated with suspicion. Recently, France blocked <a href="https://www.wsj.com/articles/frances-engie-backs-out-of-u-s-lng-deal-11604435609" target="_blank">a multi-billion dollar contract</a> to buy U.S. liquefied natural gas because of concerns about limited emissions regulations in Texas.</p><p>Strengthening cooperation and partnerships with like-minded countries will be critical to bring about a transition to cleaner energy as well as sustainability in agriculture, forestry, water and other sectors of the global economy.</p>
Creating a Global Sustainable Transition<p>How the world recovers from COVID-19's economic damage could help drive a lasting shift in the global energy mix.</p><p>Nearly one-third of Europe's US$2 trillion economic relief package <a href="https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2020-07-21/eu-approves-biggest-green-stimulus-in-history-with-572-billion-plan" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">involves investments that are also good for the climate</a>. The European Union is also strengthening its 2030 climate targets, though each country's energy and climate plans will be critical for successfully implementing them. The <a href="https://joebiden.com/clean-energy/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Biden plan</a> – including a $2 trillion commitment to developing sustainable energy and infrastructure – is aligned with a global energy transition, but its implementation is also uncertain.</p><p>Once Biden takes office, Kerry will be joining ongoing <a href="https://www.un.org/en/conferences/energy2021/about#:%7E:text=The%20overarching%20goal%20of%20the,2030%20Agenda%20for%20Sustainable%20Development.&text=Accelerate%20delivery%20of%20United%20Nations,related%20issues%20at%20all%20levels." target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">high-level discussions on the energy transition</a> at the U.N. General Assembly and other gatherings of international leaders. With the U.S. no longer obstructing work on climate issues, the G-7 and G-20 have more potential for progress on energy and climate.</p><p>Lots of technical details still need to be worked out, including international trade frameworks and standards that can help countries lower greenhouse gas emissions enough to keep global warming in check. <a href="https://www.carbonpricingleadership.org/what" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Carbon pricing</a> and <a href="https://www.csis.org/analysis/how-can-europe-get-carbon-border-adjustment-right" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">carbon border adjustment taxes</a>, which create incentive for companies to reduce emissions, may be part of it. A consistent and comprehensive set of national energy transition plans will also be needed.</p><p>The global shift to <a href="https://www.irena.org/publications/2019/Jan/A-New-World-The-Geopolitics-of-the-Energy-Transformation" target="_blank">clean energy will also have geopolitical implications for countries and regions</a>, and this will have a profound impact on wider international relations. Kerry, with his experience as secretary of state in the Obama administration, and Biden's plan to make the climate envoy position part of the National Security Council, may help mend these relations. In doing so, the U.S. may again join the wider community of countries willing to lead.</p>
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By Maria Caffrey
As we approach the holidays I, like most people, have been reflecting on everything 2020 has given us (or taken away) while starting to look ahead to 2021.