Indigenous Youth from Meghalaya presented their studies at FAO’s session-A in Rome,Italy

Rome, July 12: The Fellows of the TIP Youth Fellowship Programme of 2019 have made me immensely proud by their outstanding performance. At FAO, on the concluding day of the Fellowship, the German Room was packed with Bioversity, FAO and IFAD staff and representatives from New Zealand, Norway and Hungary, where the Fellows, Nofri Yani, Merrysha Nongrum, Chenxiang Marak and Edgar Monte presented their case studies.

The Indigenous Partnership (TIP) through Indigenous Fellowship Programme aims to create a cadre of indigenous youths to come forward, defend and revitalize their indigenous food systems for the wellbeing of their communities. Phrang Roy, TIP’s Coordinator said, “This cadre must have an intercultural approach where traditional knowledge and contemporary science would generate knowledge, innovations, and practices as equal partners”.

Ms. Chenziang Marak from the Garo matriarchal community of Meghalaya in her presentation highlighted the importance of biodiversity in community land and forest areas for food and nutrition security in the village that she studied. She said that although shifting cultivation, in this particular village, has reduced because of increasing monocropping, all the women go to the surrounding forests to collect the wide varieties of wild edibles.

She further said that she found that all the foraged food is then shared amongst all households confirming that the traditional sharing practice still continues. The custodianship of women over land is intact but the husband of the Nokma (the village Head, a woman) acts as her representative. This traditional practice does face some challenges today because of the surrounding and growing patriarchal values. She highlighted the need to revisit back the values of matriarchal communities to address some of the challenges within Indigenous Food systems like monocropping and malnutrition.

Ms. Merrysha Nongrum from the Khasi matriarchal society of Meghalaya, North East India stated that NESFAS, the organization in which she is working conducted a mapping of micro nutrient-rich resources in 32 villages.  The village that she studied had the highest biodiversity amongst the 32 villages.  It is also a village where young people are active and have formed a Youth Parliament of their own.  Yet it is a village that faces many serious threats.

A large part of the rich biodiversity area is likely to be submerged under a proposed Hydel Project of the Government of Meghalaya. She also stated that primary and secondary education is taking young boys from herding of animals, a traditional activity and this conflict between the educational system and a traditional livelihood issue has not been resolved.

Eager to ensure that community governance is guided by matriarchal values, women in this village have become active members of the all-male Village Councils and have also formed their own Women’s group to support and influence the community’s the decision-making process. As a leader of the community, Ms. Merrysha Nongrum over the past few years and even today are actively engaged in protesting against the construction of Hydel project in her village.

Mr.  Edgar Oswaldo Monte Borges from Quantana Roo, Mexico stated that his village understudy has been of recent origin where the environment around the village and milpa food system provide the highest biodiversity.  He said that many of the households who had earlier depended on the production of chicleros (resins from a tree) for a ranch moved to milpa cultivation once the ranch closed. He highlighted the need to promote wild edible plants in their local diet systems and said that resilience can be strengthened by giving importance to landscape management and biocultural diversity. He also strongly felt the need to work with young people and start introducing some of the local livelihood innovations that come from their Milpa farms.

Ms. Yani Nofri from the Minangkabau matriarchal community of West Sumatra, Indonesia stressed on the need to strengthen the existing knowledge that will empower young people to defend their indigenous food systems. She also highlighted the continuing strong position of the clan system within her own community and in the village that was studied. Although indigenous youths are migrating to urban centers, within the village she found there was a significant group of young people that is eager to revitalize their local food systems.

TIP and the Fellows have been sensitized through several discussions that the growing alienation of land and landlessness needs to be taken more seriously and indigenous peoples themselves need to have a deeper understanding of their own traditional land tenure systems and their emerging and urgent challenges.

“This was the best technical session I have attended in FAO in 2019. We at FAO need to reflect a bit more on our current work plan with reference to proposals of the Fellows” Jeffrey Y. Campbell, Manager of the Forest and Farm Facility (FFF) at FAO in Rome.

“This was a very interesting and convincing session as all presentations are evidence-based and it shows us the need for an inter-disciplinary approach to merge both traditional knowledge and modern knowledge to address some critical concerns.” Shantanu Mathur, Lead Adviser to the Associate Vice-President, Operations, at IFAD.

“This is an interesting session that highlights that the presence of biodiversity in itself may not be sufficient to conclude that there will be no micronutrient deficiency in supporting communities.” Ganesh Thapa, former IFAD Regional Economist.

“It will be good to know what resources are there or will be needed to ensure the continuation of this Fellowship Programme”. Anna Bruni Sabhawey

“Systems thinking is very much a part of indigenous thinking and let us not forget this aspect”. Marcela Villarreal, Director, Partnership and South-South Cooperation Division (DPS), FAO.


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