Indigenous food systems, biocultural heritage and agricultural resilience

Lead Research Organisation: International Institute for Env and Dev
Department Name: Natural Resources Group

Abstract

The world's 370-500 million indigenous peoples are amongst the poorest and most food insecure. IIED and partners have been conducting research on indigenous farming systems and traditional knowledge in Kenya, India and China, without humanities inputs or training. This project aims to expand this existing partnership of agriculture and sustainability researchers and NGOs to include humanities and interdisciplinary academics. The new partnership will develop novel interdisciplinary approaches to explore indigenous food systems, past and present, from farm to plate, including crops, processing and cuisine. It will design new research methods that use ethnobotany and oral histories alongside agricultural surveys, as well as information from historical and archaeological sources. The areas of research are: (i) the Rabai community, Mijikenda tribe in coastal Kenya; (ii) the Lingsey and Lingseykha communities (Lepcha and Limbu people) in the Himalayas, West Bengal, NE India; (iii) the Naxi people in the Stone Village area of Yunnan, SW China. These areas have a rich diversity of traditional crops which are adapted to local conditions and hence important for agricultural resilience; but many of these crops have declined in recent decades, becoming minor, and associated traditional knowledge is rapidly disappearing. A key driver of change is the spread of modern high-yielding varieties promoted by agricultural research and extension services. The new research is expected to generate evidence of the long-term use of certain traditional crops which suggests suitability for local agricultural contexts, to inform agricultural researchers and policy makers, and community crop choices.

The project will also establish a wider global network on indigenous food systems bringing together the new partnership, other UK humanities and agriculture experts, FAO, and international and indigenous experts working on indigenous food systems. The network will connect researchers working largely in disciplinary and sectoral silos and using very different approaches, to jointly identify and develop new areas of interdisciplinary research critical for addressing the food systems challenges of indigenous peoples in developing countries.

The project has 3 main objectives, each of which forms a work package:
1. Establish a new cross-sector research partnership and network on indigenous food systems, linking interdisciplinary academics with agricultural and sustainability researchers and policy makers in the UK and LMICs and globally (FAO). A workshop will be held in the UK to bring together these actors, take stock of research to date on the role of indigenous food systems in resilience, nutrition and sustainability, and identify key areas for further interdisciplinary research. The workshop will also begin to develop interdisciplinary approaches for research on indigenous food systems in the study communities in Kenya, India and China.

2. Co-design new interdisciplinary research approaches and develop interdisciplinary capacity to explore indigenous food and farming systems past and present, and from farm to plate. Local workshops will be held in each country to develop new approaches tailored to each local context in collaboration with indigenous communities, agricultural researchers and policy makers and local humanities experts. Ethnobotanical questionnaires will be developed collaboratively and tested by local partners.

3. Advocate the importance of using traditional agricultural knowledge, crops and landscapes to create strategies for agricultural resilience. The results will be used to prepare workshop reports in English and local languages; a journal article; and a project proposal for future in-depth research in the 3 sites. The results will also be presented at international policy meetings on sustainable development, biodiversity and culture, and at DFID. They will be disseminated more widely through a blog and a news story.

Planned Impact

The project will establish a new interdisciplinary partnership and network for research on indigenous food systems, and develop interdisciplinary research approaches and capacity, through workshops in the UK, Kenya, India and China. It will produce a range of outputs to reach a range of beneficiaries: i) reports of each workshop in English; ii) reports of local workshop in local languages; iii) a project proposal for research on indigenous food systems in the 3 countries; iv) an article for an interdisciplinary journal to provide interdisciplinary methods and approaches for wider replication; v) a blog and news story for a broader development audience; vi) presentations at UN conferences on Sustainable Development Goals, Biodiversity and Culture, and at DFID.

The project will benefit the following actors:
- IIED and its agriculture and sustainability research and NGO partners in Kenya, India and China will benefit by establishing a new partnership with interdisciplinary and humanities experts which will build their capacity to develop and use interdisciplinary research approaches - notably ethnobotany and oral histories - to enable them to fully explore indigenous food systems and crops and their cultural and historical contexts, and to better inform and influence agriculture research and policy debates by using historical as well as present-day evidence.
- UK humanities and interdisciplinary academics at Kew, Cambridge University and University of London (SOAS), and a business models expert from Newcastle University, enabling them to establish new partnerships with agriculture and sustainability researchers, policy makers and indigenous communities in the three countries, to enhance the development impacts of their research.
- Other UK humanities and agriculture/food academics, allowing them to develop new collaboration across sectors and disciplines, and with international policy makers through the FAO Hub on indigenous food systems.
- Agricultural scientists and policy makers in Kenya, India and China who will gain new understanding of the role of indigenous food and farming systems in agricultural resilience, nutrition and sustainability and of local community contexts, through local workshops and field trips, enabling them to develop more effective interventions.
- Indigenous communities, who will get a rare opportunity to have an equitable dialogue with agricultural researchers both in a local workshop setting and in their communities, to share their traditional knowledge and cultural values and highlight challenges they face. The project will enable them to co-design new research on their food and farming systems, past and present, so that they can learn from crop choices and strategies that have been resilient in the past, and ensure that the research directly addresses their food security needs. Co-researchers from the communities will work with partners to plan and facilitate field visits and to undertake future research in their communities and landscapes to strengthen local research capacity and create employment.
- Humanities academics (e.g. anthropologists, historians) in India, Kenya and China, by enabling them to establish new collaboration with agricultural researchers, policy makers and communities, and with UK humanities academics, and co-develop new interdisciplinary research approaches.
- International policy makers and development agencies, who will gain a better understanding of how indigenous food systems contribute to agricultural resilience, nutrition and sustainability through presentations at international UN conferences on biodiversity, the sustainable development goals, cultural heritage, and at the UK aid agency (DFID).
- Academics in various disciplines, particularly Ethnobotanical and Ethnographic research on subsistence farming; and development studies, by showing how ethnobotanical studies of crop diversity can contribute towards strategies for coping with climate change.

Publications

10 25 50
 
Description A series of four workshops organised with Indigenous peoples - at international level and in NE India, coastal Kenya, and SW China, has generated a number of insights about the importance of indigenous food systems for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals:
- they play a critical role in sustaining biodiversity, including crop diversity and wild crop relatives, and have ensured food security for many indigenous peoples, despite significant impacts from climate change, increased pests and diseases, and COVID-19
- indigenous peoples continue to domesticate wild plants to create new resilient crops, and to promote the flow of resilient wild genes to enrich domesticated crops
- indigenous crops and wild foods are critical for ensuring nutrition and dietary diversity
- cultural and spiritual values play a fundamental role in ensuring biodiversity conservation and food security, and many indigenous food systems are still highly ritualistic.
However, indigenous food systems and knowledge are being steadily eroded by many common drivers:
- out-migration of youth and loss of indigenous knowledge due to lack of economic opportunities and lack of integration of IK in education systems
- influx of modern foods and modernisation, promoted by the media, government policies and development projects
- marginalisation of indigenous peoples and racism
Exploitation Route We plan to prepare a journal article and policy briefing paper based on the findings.
Sectors Agriculture, Food and Drink,Communities and Social Services/Policy,Environment,Government, Democracy and Justice,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections

URL https://biocultural.iied.org/indigenous-peoples%E2%80%99-food-systems-hold-key-feeding-humanity
 
Description COVID 19 Grant Extension Allocation International Institute for Env and Dev
Amount £47,344 (GBP)
Funding ID EP/V521735/1 
Organisation Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 03/2020 
End 09/2021
 
Title Livestreamed interaction with rural communities 
Description A system for holding livestreamed virtual interactions with communities in rural landscapes was developed, that ensures high visual and sound quality and allows simultaneous translation - using zoom, DSLR mirrorless video camera, and an OBS sound mixer. This was successfully trialled in the Andes mountains in Peru, during the first project workshop, where researchers and indigenous peoples from all over the world were able to see live presentations by Quechua farmers on the top of a mountain, ask questions and get live responses, while clearly seeing the faces of the farmers and the beautiful landscape. The equipment needed for this, and how to set it up, was shared with local partners in Kenya, India and Peru, through a South-South exchange. The project also supported the purchase of equipment for community livestreaming in the 4 countries. Thus, it built the capacity of Southern research and NGO partners, and UK their partners, to continue conducting research with communities during Covid pandemic lockdowns. 
Type Of Material Improvements to research infrastructure 
Year Produced 2021 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact The live interaction with Quechua farmers allowed UK academics and botanists to learn first hand how indigenous peoples' ancestral values and practices are critical for sustaining crop diversity and ensuring food security in the face of climate change and global pandemics. 
URL https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GgqbDP9X95o&list=PL1iUHL94bWo7OxlZMPpY6GBTHDUr9A0bP&index=2
 
Description Indigenous Food Systems, Biocultural Heritage and Agricultural Resilience - project partnership 
Organisation Friends of Himalaya
Department LOK CHETNA MANCH
Sector Public 
PI Contribution This is the main project partnership between IIED, Kew, FSN (China), KEFRI (Kenya), and LCM (India), with the PI and four Co-Investigators based in each organisation. Swiderska at IIED (PI) is expert in agriculture, traditional knowledge and biodiversity and is leading the project overall. She has worked with the country partners for the past 15 years, conducting PAR and mixed methods research to explore traditional knowledge, crops, farming systems, biocultural heritage and climate resilience in the target communities, and to protect biocultural heritage and rights and enhance livelihoods (building on experience with the Quechua Potato Park). Ryan at Kew (Co-I) is an ethnobotanist and archaeobotanist and is bringing interdisciplinary expertise and methods to better understand these farming/food systems past and present and their role in agricultural resilience. This will build on Ryan's previous AHRC research on 'Sustainability and subsistence systems in a changing Sudan' and her subsequent AHRC GCRF project 'Nubian traditional knowledge and agricultural resilience, crop choices and endangered cultural heritage', which co-created a community-orientated book 'Nubia past and present, agriculture crops and food'. IIED's existing SIFOR partners are coordinating the in-country work and providing in-depth knowledge of the target communities and broader policy drivers: Wekesa at KEFRI (Co-I) - landscape ecologist; Rastogi at LCM (Co-I) - agriculture & environment specialist; and Song at FSN (Co-I) - agriculture and gender specialist.
Collaborator Contribution See above.
Impact Multidisciplinary: agriculture, traditional knowledge, biodiversity, ethnobotany, archaeobotany, landscape ecology, environment, gender
Start Year 2019
 
Description Indigenous Food Systems, Biocultural Heritage and Agricultural Resilience - project partnership 
Organisation International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED)
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution This is the main project partnership between IIED, Kew, FSN (China), KEFRI (Kenya), and LCM (India), with the PI and four Co-Investigators based in each organisation. Swiderska at IIED (PI) is expert in agriculture, traditional knowledge and biodiversity and is leading the project overall. She has worked with the country partners for the past 15 years, conducting PAR and mixed methods research to explore traditional knowledge, crops, farming systems, biocultural heritage and climate resilience in the target communities, and to protect biocultural heritage and rights and enhance livelihoods (building on experience with the Quechua Potato Park). Ryan at Kew (Co-I) is an ethnobotanist and archaeobotanist and is bringing interdisciplinary expertise and methods to better understand these farming/food systems past and present and their role in agricultural resilience. This will build on Ryan's previous AHRC research on 'Sustainability and subsistence systems in a changing Sudan' and her subsequent AHRC GCRF project 'Nubian traditional knowledge and agricultural resilience, crop choices and endangered cultural heritage', which co-created a community-orientated book 'Nubia past and present, agriculture crops and food'. IIED's existing SIFOR partners are coordinating the in-country work and providing in-depth knowledge of the target communities and broader policy drivers: Wekesa at KEFRI (Co-I) - landscape ecologist; Rastogi at LCM (Co-I) - agriculture & environment specialist; and Song at FSN (Co-I) - agriculture and gender specialist.
Collaborator Contribution See above.
Impact Multidisciplinary: agriculture, traditional knowledge, biodiversity, ethnobotany, archaeobotany, landscape ecology, environment, gender
Start Year 2019
 
Description Indigenous Food Systems, Biocultural Heritage and Agricultural Resilience - project partnership 
Organisation Kenya Forestry Research Institute
Country Kenya 
Sector Private 
PI Contribution This is the main project partnership between IIED, Kew, FSN (China), KEFRI (Kenya), and LCM (India), with the PI and four Co-Investigators based in each organisation. Swiderska at IIED (PI) is expert in agriculture, traditional knowledge and biodiversity and is leading the project overall. She has worked with the country partners for the past 15 years, conducting PAR and mixed methods research to explore traditional knowledge, crops, farming systems, biocultural heritage and climate resilience in the target communities, and to protect biocultural heritage and rights and enhance livelihoods (building on experience with the Quechua Potato Park). Ryan at Kew (Co-I) is an ethnobotanist and archaeobotanist and is bringing interdisciplinary expertise and methods to better understand these farming/food systems past and present and their role in agricultural resilience. This will build on Ryan's previous AHRC research on 'Sustainability and subsistence systems in a changing Sudan' and her subsequent AHRC GCRF project 'Nubian traditional knowledge and agricultural resilience, crop choices and endangered cultural heritage', which co-created a community-orientated book 'Nubia past and present, agriculture crops and food'. IIED's existing SIFOR partners are coordinating the in-country work and providing in-depth knowledge of the target communities and broader policy drivers: Wekesa at KEFRI (Co-I) - landscape ecologist; Rastogi at LCM (Co-I) - agriculture & environment specialist; and Song at FSN (Co-I) - agriculture and gender specialist.
Collaborator Contribution See above.
Impact Multidisciplinary: agriculture, traditional knowledge, biodiversity, ethnobotany, archaeobotany, landscape ecology, environment, gender
Start Year 2019
 
Description Indigenous Food Systems, Biocultural Heritage and Agricultural Resilience - project partnership 
Organisation Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution This is the main project partnership between IIED, Kew, FSN (China), KEFRI (Kenya), and LCM (India), with the PI and four Co-Investigators based in each organisation. Swiderska at IIED (PI) is expert in agriculture, traditional knowledge and biodiversity and is leading the project overall. She has worked with the country partners for the past 15 years, conducting PAR and mixed methods research to explore traditional knowledge, crops, farming systems, biocultural heritage and climate resilience in the target communities, and to protect biocultural heritage and rights and enhance livelihoods (building on experience with the Quechua Potato Park). Ryan at Kew (Co-I) is an ethnobotanist and archaeobotanist and is bringing interdisciplinary expertise and methods to better understand these farming/food systems past and present and their role in agricultural resilience. This will build on Ryan's previous AHRC research on 'Sustainability and subsistence systems in a changing Sudan' and her subsequent AHRC GCRF project 'Nubian traditional knowledge and agricultural resilience, crop choices and endangered cultural heritage', which co-created a community-orientated book 'Nubia past and present, agriculture crops and food'. IIED's existing SIFOR partners are coordinating the in-country work and providing in-depth knowledge of the target communities and broader policy drivers: Wekesa at KEFRI (Co-I) - landscape ecologist; Rastogi at LCM (Co-I) - agriculture & environment specialist; and Song at FSN (Co-I) - agriculture and gender specialist.
Collaborator Contribution See above.
Impact Multidisciplinary: agriculture, traditional knowledge, biodiversity, ethnobotany, archaeobotany, landscape ecology, environment, gender
Start Year 2019
 
Description Blog on 'Indigenous Peoples' food systems hold the key to feeding humanity' 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact The blog was prepared by K. Swiderska and P. Ryan in November 2020, to disseminate the key messages from the IIED-Kew workshop on Indigenous Food Systems, Biocultural Heritage and the SDGs. The blog was published on the IIED website and the FAO's website: http://www.fao.org/family-farming/detail/en/c/1318111/. It was shared on Twitter where it got a strong response (over 100 retweets and likes)
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
URL https://www.iied.org/indigenous-peoples-food-systems-hold-key-feeding-humanity
 
Description Indigenous food systems, biocultural heritage and the SDGs - Workshop 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact Virtual workshop organised by IIED (PI) and Kew (Co-I), bringing together interdisciplinary academics (humanities, botany), Indigenous Peoples from Asia, Africa, Latin America and the Artic, UN agencies (FAO, UNDP, UNESCO) and sustainability researchers and NGOs from Kenya, India, and China. A total of 128 people participated. The workshop was deliberately kept small (not publicly promoted) to promote active discussion and meaningful participation of Indigenous peoples.
The purpose was to jointly explore the role of indigenous food systems in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals, the challenges they face and responses needed; the research priorities of indigenous people and decolonising research approaches; and to build networks and partnerships between different disciplines and actors. The workshop also sought to empower Indigenous peoples, by giving them a central role as presenters. It included a livestreamed interaction with Quechua farmers in the Andes, Peru. For further information see: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/indigenous-food-systems-biocultural-heritage-and-the-sdgs-tickets-119608202353. In this workshop and the 3 local project workshops, care was taken to ensure a gender balance amongst speakers and panellists, and ensure that Indigenous women made up at least 50% of speakers and participated actively.

Very positive feedback was received from diverse participants, including FAO, academics and indigenous peoples. FAO: "Congratulations for the excellent panellists and presenters, very very interesting and so much learning!" SOAS: "fascinating workshop with such wonderful footage from the field. I am really enjoying the sights, sounds and talks". French Research Institute for Sustainable Development: "this was a very interesting webinar with such powerful representatives of indigenous peoples, their contributions were so insightful." Indigenous Partnership for Agrobiodiversity: "There were many great presentations. I was also very pleased to find so many articulate indigenous speakers". "As primarily an arts and humanities researcher who isn't 'really' in development, I certainly learnt a great deal." RBG Kew: "the parts I could catch were very stimulating, and an excellent mix of people". Univ. of Canterbury: "an excellent workshop, with such a breadth of expertise and experience". Kenya Forestry Research Institute: "the workshop was great, we learned a lot from diverse experiences world over". Tebtebba (Indigenous organisation, Philippines): "I am most grateful for having been given the opportunity to participate and share. It was good to know that there is much activism among researchers".

The workshop evaluation, completed by a range of actors, showed that the workshop changed the views, opinions or behaviours of participants to increase engagement with the topic, enhanced understanding of indigenous food systems' contribution to the SDGs, prompted them to plan related activities, and enlarged their networks.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
URL https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ylpXV9HBzdA&list=PL1iUHL94bWo7OxlZMPpY6GBTHDUr9A0bP
 
Description Local research planning workshop on Indigenous Food Systems, in Northeast India 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact The local workshop was held in Kalimpong, West Bengal. It brought together 15-20 Lepcha and Limbu indigenous farmers from Lingsey and Lingseykha panchayats, including women, elders and youth, who were the main presenters, and was facilitated by partners from Himalayan NGO Lok Chetna Manch. It also involved 4 UK researchers who participated virtually - 3 humanities/interdisciplinary academics (Kew, SOAS and Canterbury University) and 1 sustainable development researcher (PI). Its purpose was to understand the local context and indigenous food system, and discuss the communities' priorities for research, to inform the design of future research. As the workshop could not be held in the field (due to unstable internet), a film was prepared interviewing indigenous farmers in Lingsey and Lingseykha villages, and shown at the workshop. The workshop enabled UK researchers to get a good understanding of the indigenous food systems, the challenges they face, and the community's priorities for research - so that these can be addressed through the future research project. The discussion identified the need to document the traditional integrated forest-farm mountain food system, to inform government policies that are prohibiting cultural use of the forest, and to help promote of agro-ecotourism. The research approach and types of communications outputs that would be useful for the community were also discussed.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021
URL https://protect-eu.mimecast.com/s/XrZmC0YZ3fLzGJcwu0jX?domain=drive.google.com
 
Description Local research planning workshop on Indigenous Food Systems, in Rabai, Coastal Kenya 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact This four-hour workshop in Kenya was held on 25th and 26th February 2021, in the Rabai community. It involved 25-30 Indigenous Mijikenda participants from the Rabai community in Kilifi County, including women, elders and youth, and was facilitated by Kenya Forestry Research Institute and Rabai Cultural Village (a Community-based Organisation). It also involved 4 UK researchers who participated virtually - 2 humanities/interdisciplinary academics, 1 botanist and 1 sustainable development researcher. Its purpose was to understand the local context and indigenous food system, through community presentations, and to allow the community to identify priorities for research on indigenous food system. This purpose was fully achieved - the workshop was livestreamed from the community, allowing UK researchers to see the Kaya forest landscape, indigenous farming system and traditional houses. Different community members participated actively in answering questions and sharing knowledge about their traditional food systems and the challenges they face. The community priorities for research - both in terms of issues for research and the research approach and role of the community - will be included in a proposal for future research, to ensure that their needs are addressed. The community requested that the research should help address challenges relating to governance and livelihoods/markets for traditional food and farming systems. About 70% of the Rabai population lives below the poverty line.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021
URL https://youtu.be/5l7308xZJjE
 
Description Local research planning workshop on Indigenous Food Systems, in the Stone Village, Yunnan, China 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact This workshop took place on 14 January 2021. It involved about 35 Naxi Indigenous community members from the Stone Village and 2 other villages (Wumu and Labo) along the Yangxe river, in NW Yunnan (SW China), about 200 miles from Lijiang; including village leaders, the Party representative from the Stone Village, women and youth; and a few practitioners from the Farmer Seed Network and local NGOs in China. Sustainability and humanities researchers from the UK (IIED, Kew, University of Cambridge) and the Kunming Institute of Botany participated virtually.
The aim of the 4 hour workshop was to understand the local context and indigenous food system, through presentations by indigenous community members (including women, youth, leaders); and to jointly identify priorities for future research on indigenous food systems. The workshop was held just after the annual community planning workshop, where the 3 villages plan activities for the coming year. The villages shared their plans including priorities for action-research to strengthen their indigenous food systems. Part of the workshop was held outside, so the virtual participants were able to see the landscape and agricultural system.
As a result of the workshop, UK researchers gained a good understanding of Naxi indigenous food systems and the challenges they face, and of the indigenous communities' priorities for future research, so that these can be included in a research proposal that will be developed by IIED and Kew.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021
URL https://youtu.be/aM8yvg_YZaQ
 
Description Project web-page 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Third sector organisations
Results and Impact A web-page on the project was created on the IIED website to raise awareness about the project and the importance of indigenous food systems and interdisciplinary research. This was shared on twitter, and was part of a communications strategy to raise the profile of the project and the issues it addresses early in the project, and enhance the impact of future outputs. A few research organisations contacted IIED expressing interest in being involved in the first ('UK') workshop as a result of this.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019,2020,2021
URL https://www.iied.org/indigenous-food-systems-biocultural-heritage-agricultural-resilience