Indigenous Peoples’ Food Systems and Biocultural Heritage: Addressing Indigenous Priorities Using Decolonial and Interdisciplinary Research Approaches
2. Biocultural Heritage: A Holistic Food Heritage Framework
3. Materials and Methods
- Webinar 1 “Opening keynotes and Potato Park (Peru)” (9 October) explored the role of Indigenous food systems and crops in climate resilience, sustainability, nutrition, health and well-being, key trends and challenges and responses needed. The webinar entailed presentations by Indigenous experts from the Philippines, Kenya, FAO and Centre for Indigenous Nutrition and Environment (CINE), and a live-streamed session from the Potato Park biocultural territory where Quechua community experts (researchers, elders, women, youth) presented their Andean food system using a traditional story-telling format.
- Webinar 2. “Indigenous food systems in China, India and Kenya” (13 October) explored the same issues as webinar 1, focusing on the Rabai Mijikenda community in Kenya, Lepcha and Limbu communities in northeast India and Naxi and Moso in Southwest China, with presentations by local researchers and Indigenous elders and community researchers.
- Webinar 3. “Co-creating research agendas” (14 October) explored Indigenous Peoples’ research priorities relating to their food systems, including key issues and challenges, research approaches, the role of academics and interdisciplinary research gaps.
- Webinar 4. “Exploring research methods” (15 October) involved presentations on interdisciplinary research methods by academics; and on decolonising action-research methods by Indigenous experts from Peru, the Philippines and Botswana.
- Rabai (a Mijikenda sub-tribe) sacred Kaya forest landscape in coastal Kenya;
- The Stone Village in Yunnan (China) where four Naxi and Moso communities gathered; and
- Kalimpong in northeast India where two Lepcha and Limbu communities gathered (Lingsey and Lingseykha).
4.1. Global Workshop on Indigenous Food Systems, Biocultural Heritage and the SDGs
4.1.1. Role of Indigenous Peoples’ Food Systems in Food Security, Resilience and Sustainability
Rich Biodiversity, Agroecology and Cultural Heritage
Climate Resilience and Adaptation
Food Security and Nutrition
Resilience to Pandemics and Economic Development
4.1.2. Threats to Indigenous Peoples’ Food Systems
4.1.3. Indigenous Peoples’ Research Priorities
- Fully engage Indigenous Peoples and support Indigenous-led research since conventional externally-led research is not useful to Indigenous Peoples and “scientists can never fully understand Indigenous Peoples without actively engaging them in research” (Hindou Ibrahim, Chad).
- Respect the value of Indigenous knowledge and ancestral wisdom on the same level as science, and recognise Indigenous Peoples as equal experts.
- Mainstream the often overlooked Indigenous perspectives and knowledge in conventional research, and go beyond multidisciplinarity to take a multicultural approach that blends Indigenous knowledge and science.
- Develop culturally appropriate research approaches with Indigenous Peoples that support Indigenous methods of learning and knowledge transmission (e.g., story-telling, observation, landscape walks).
- Respect Indigenous Peoples’ rights as enshrined in the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, including the right to Free Prior and Informed Consent at the community and individual levels, by providing full information about proposed research and allowing communities to deny consent or place conditions.
- Understand community decision-making processes and work with community institutions.
- Support power equalising approaches for Indigenous communities and women, including inter-community networking and meaningful engagement in policy processes.
- Contribute to the body of knowledge of Indigenous Peoples for their own needs, rather than as an object of investigation—research should facilitate learning and collective analysis within communities, and “the community should be the first to benefit from the knowledge produced” (Florence Daguitan, the Philippines).
- Start by “decolonising the minds of Indigenous Peoples who have been brainwashed to think that their foods are inferior” (Bagele Chilisa, Botswana).
- “Debunk the notion that research is only done by the schooled” (Florence Daguitan, the Philippines).
- Use Indigenous research methods that frame research using Indigenous worldviews and values, recognising the spiritual values of food and links to land (Bagele Chilisa, Botswana).
- Use decolonising action-research methods where research is led by Indigenous elders and authorities (including women), and guided by Indigenous epistemic principles (e.g., relationality, reciprocity and balance with the natural world) (Alejandro Argumedo, Peru).
4.1.4. Decolonising and Interdisciplinary Research Methods
- Mapping while walking through the territory to strengthen the sense of place and identity, and show the diversity of food crop varieties and animals breeds, locations of wild food plants and animals, and how the whole territory contributes to the diet. Communities can use GPS to construct a three-dimensional map and introduce some “modern ways” of biodiversity inventory.
- Traditional calendars to show the availability of different foods at different times of year, when to plant different crops, when not to disturb wild animals in the forest and fish in rice fields and rivers to give them time to mate and reproduce and indicators for changes in seasons.
- Story-telling to show how certain food is valued and why; changes in food production and consumption; and how wild areas are protected and seeds are conserved.
- Comparing and contrasting, for example, to show how community elders/leaders were more proactive in the past in investigating community issues and concerns and addressing these for the common good, abundance or scarcity of certain foods and health of the environment in the past and today.
- Learning by doing, for example producing organic farm inputs, conducting soil tests with scientists, using/testing traditional indicators, and introducing innovations in rice farming systems.
- Collective analysis of the results, which can lead to community policy formulation and action, for example, banning junk food from entering the community and restoring backyard gardens in every home.
4.2. Local Workshops in Kenya, India and China
4.3. Developing a Decolonial, Interdisciplinary Framework for Research on Indigenous Food Systems
- What is the relationship between traditional crops, food heritage, landscapes and cultural and spiritual values, and which of these are threatened or lost? What is the role of traditional crops, wild edibles and semi-cultivated crops in culture and spirituality, sustainability, food security, nutrition and resilience? What are the traditional methods for seed management, cultivation, improvement, processing, storage and food preparation?
- How are farming and forest food systems interconnected today and in the past? How does this affect outcomes for risk management, food security, nutrition, biodiversity conservation, cultural and spiritual values and holistic well-being?
- How are biological and cultural heritage interconnected? How are human farming/food systems, wild ecosystems (forests, mountains, rivers) and the sacred/spiritual realms interconnected in Indigenous worldviews, beliefs and practices?
- What tools and approaches are needed to protect Indigenous food systems and biocultural heritage (or “food-related biocultural heritage”) and revitalise them as living heritage? How can the Potato Park approach be adapted to different contexts?
- How can Indigenous agri-food histories contribute to local, national and global policy debates on agriculture, biodiversity, climate resilience and development?
- Ethnobotany of farming and food systems: The first question on traditional crops and wild foods could be explored through participatory transect walks in farmers’ fields, home gardens and wild harvesting areas, involving community researchers, farmers and botanists, to record local and scientific names and traditional knowledge about plant uses. Indigenous community researchers can record data using specifically designed smartphone apps linked to community databases. After collection, the results can be analysed by community participants using Indigenous methods such as matrix ranking, for example, to identify wild plants to prioritise for food, gastronomy and medicine. Transects can also serve to assess the conservation status and trends in the abundance of wild foods (based on the memories of elders), and the results can be used to prepare maps of vulnerable species and conservation plans . Focus group discussions can then be held to further explore research questions about traditional crops and wild foods and validate the findings. These should include elders, women, men and youth; and it may be best to limit them to about 5–7 people to stimulate discussion, and to hold them when neighbours usually gather. If further information is needed, semi-structured interviews could be conducted with elders, at convenient times. The discussions can be recorded by community researchers on smartphones in Indigenous languages and later transcribed and translated .
- Oral histories of farm-forest food heritage could then be conducted with key Indigenous knowledge holders to further explore threatened or lost heritage (research questions 1-3), building on the ethnobotanical information collected (e.g., using crop/plant lists with local, Indigenous and Latin names). Oral histories can be used to identify key moments of change (e.g., the Cultural Revolution in China, the emergence of protected areas in India, and agricultural modernisation campaigns in Kenya), and explore the situation before and after. This can create stories of change that can be shared more widely amongst communities and with policymakers. Unstructured oral histories, such as stories and songs of elders and women (e.g., while women are processing or cooking traditional foods), can provide insights into ancestral values and worldviews and bring out the meanings and emotions attached to threatened or lost heritage. Indigenous and archival sources may provide further detail, for example, on local cosmovision, crop varieties, food and farming systems, before key moments of change. Ethnobotanical information can also be compared with any existing regional archaeobotanical data to provide a deep-time view of crop histories [38,44].
- Tools to protect and revitalise food-related biocultural heritage: Key tools can be developed and tested, building on the Potato Park experience but adapting them to different biocultural and political contexts, such as mixed ethnic communities in sub-tropical and temperate mountain forests in northeast India; dispersed terraced mountain communities along the Jinsha river in Yunnan; and the densely populated semi-arid Rabai Kaya forest landscape near Mombasa. The following tools were identified by communities in the local workshops, reflecting key components of biocultural heritage territories:
- Collective governance institutions (building on customary governance).
- Micro-enterprises (e.g., agro-ecotourism, value addition, traditional restaurants).
- Tools to promote intergenerational TK transmission (e.g., revival of traditional Rome in Kenya, Biocultural Festivals, Farmer Field Schools, tailored outputs for schools).
- Awareness raising, for example through display panels on the findings for community museums and registration of food heritage as Intangible Cultural Heritage (in China).
Institutional Review Board Statement
Informed Consent Statement
Data Availability Statement
Conflicts of Interest
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|Naxi and Moso (Northwest Yunnan, China)|
|Lepcha and Limbu (Kalimpong, West Bengal, India)|
|Mijikenda (Rabai, Kilifi county, Kenya)|
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Swiderska, K.; Argumedo, A.; Wekesa, C.; Ndalilo, L.; Song, Y.; Rastogi, A.; Ryan, P. Indigenous Peoples’ Food Systems and Biocultural Heritage: Addressing Indigenous Priorities Using Decolonial and Interdisciplinary Research Approaches. Sustainability 2022, 14, 11311. https://doi.org/10.3390/su141811311
Swiderska K, Argumedo A, Wekesa C, Ndalilo L, Song Y, Rastogi A, Ryan P. Indigenous Peoples’ Food Systems and Biocultural Heritage: Addressing Indigenous Priorities Using Decolonial and Interdisciplinary Research Approaches. Sustainability. 2022; 14(18):11311. https://doi.org/10.3390/su141811311Chicago/Turabian Style
Swiderska, Krystyna, Alejandro Argumedo, Chemuku Wekesa, Leila Ndalilo, Yiching Song, Ajay Rastogi, and Philippa Ryan. 2022. "Indigenous Peoples’ Food Systems and Biocultural Heritage: Addressing Indigenous Priorities Using Decolonial and Interdisciplinary Research Approaches" Sustainability 14, no. 18: 11311. https://doi.org/10.3390/su141811311