Shifting Cultivation: The cultural heritage of indigenous communities and the source of livelihoods and food security for many indigenous peoples in Asia

Chiang Mai, Thailand: Indigenous peoples traditional land use systems, particularly shifting cultivation in most of the countries in Asia have long been contributing to the sustainable livelihoods; food security; sustainable natural resources management; and biodiversity conservation and enhancement. The traditional knowledge, cultural, spiritual and nutritional values attached to these livelihood systems demonstrate that they are not merely a technique of land use but their way of life. Most of the countries in Asia have adopted the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) that guarantees the rights of indigenous peoples to continue their traditional land use systems.

 

Chiang Mai, Thailand: Indigenous peoples traditional land use systems, particularly shifting cultivation in most of the countries in Asia have long been contributing to the sustainable livelihoods; food security; sustainable natural resources management; and biodiversity conservation and enhancement. The traditional knowledge, cultural, spiritual and nutritional values attached to these livelihood systems demonstrate that they are not merely a technique of land use but their way of life. Most of the countries in Asia have adopted the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) that guarantees the rights of indigenous peoples to continue their traditional land use systems. Despite this widespread adoption, there are policies on land use that consider shifting cultivation, as a driver of deforestation in many countries in Asia. These policies are damaging indigenous land use systems and have resulted in food insecurity, loss of biodiversity and traditional knowledge of indigenous peoples.

Mr. Hiroyoki Konuma, Assistant Director General and Regional Representative for Asia and the Pacific (FAO- RAP), giving his welcome remarks to the participants of the “Regional Multi-Stakeholder Consultation on Indigenous Peoples Livelihood and Food Security” said that shifting cultivation has been portrayed as the enemy of forest conservation. The victimization of shifting cultivation should be avoided. Mr. Konuma added that our aim should be to highlight the good practices of indigenous peoples and protect such traditional livelihoods that are important to indigenous peoples and also for us.”  Mr. Konuma also added that “Unless we target indigenous peoples, who are one of the largest portion of the most vulnerable and disadvantaged groups in our society and work together with them as key partners, we would not be able to eradicate poverty and hunger, and our fundamental goal of equitable growth, social stability and sustainable development would never be achieved.”

The regional consultation was co-organized by Asia Indigenous Peoples Pact (AIPP) and Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) with the support of International Work for Indigenous Affairs (IWGIA) and Rainforest Foundation Norway (RFN) on 28-30 August 2014 at Hotel Amora in Chiang Mai, Thailand. 51 representatives of indigenous peoples, civil society organizations and governments from Bangladesh, Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Lao PDR, Malaysia, Myanmar, Malaysia, Nepal, Philippines, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Viet Nam actively participated in the consultation.

The case studies from Cambodia, India, Lao PDR and Nepal on shifting cultivation, food security and livelihoods of indigenous peoples were presented in the consultation. These case studies were the results of the joint initiative of AIPP and FAO under “Regional Support to Indigenous Peoples for Livelihood and Food Security.” The case studies reaffirmed what indigenous peoples have been advocating for many years, that shifting cultivation is playing a significant role in providing livelihoods and ensuring food security to indigenous communities. The studies also reconfirmed that indigenous peoples’ life and culture are intricately linked to shifting cultivation. Also, the traditional shifting cultivation with the fallow cycle of 7 to 10 years is sustainable and does not lead to deforestation unless land scarcity compels farmers to clear new land in forest areas. The videos on shifting cultivation from Lao PDR and Thailand were also screened during the consultation.

During the discussion, Mr. Konuma said that sustainable shifting cultivation is not just farming practice but it’s a cultural heritage and way of communities’ life. We need to protect and promote shifting cultivation provided that it is sustainably managed. One of the key discussions of the consultation was on the roles of indigenous women on sustainable resource management and food security. The case studies demonstrated that indigenous women perform 70% of the work related to shifting cultivation. They do the selection of seeds, weeding the fields, gathering, processing and selling the surplus products. Men are responsible for the identification of suitable land and the hard physical work in land preparations for shifting cultivation. The clearing of the land, the preparation of the firebreaks, harvesting and conducting the rituals are collectively done by women and men. Indigenous women are playing instrument role in preserving seeds and in transferring traditional knowledge to the younger generations.

On the second day of the consultation, the participants discussed and agreed with a range of common recommendations addressing key concerns raised during the workshop. Some of the recommendations include:

  1. Strengthening policy advocacy at national, regional and global levels on land tenure, food security and livelihoods based upon the principle of equal partnership between states and indigenous peoples and adherence to the right to free, prior and informed consent (FPIC) of indigenous peoples/tribal peoples/indigenous cultural communities in relation to sustainable management of Shifting Cultivation (SC), sustainable resource management and cultural integrity as the rights of the indigenous peoples/tribal peoples/indigenous cultural communities.  
  2. Awareness raising on Indigenous Peoples’ rights addressing consequences of large-scale mono-cropping, large scale land investments and plantations; capacity building on innovations especially for women and youth, skills on agroforestry, NTFPs etc.
  3. Biodiversity Conservation and Enhancement and protection against bio-piracy and unfair and illegal patenting
  4. Research and documentation on shifting cultivation and related studies
  5. Support services for indigenous peoples to enhance their livelihoods, provided by governments with support from FAO, other UN agencies and CSOs.

All the participants appreciated the initiative of FAO and AIPP to carry out research and to bring their attention to such important issue of shifting cultivation. Mr. Konuma affirmed that the collaboration should continue to implement the common recommendations; and all stakeholders should play key roles in achieving those recommendations.In the closing remarks of the consultation, Ms. Joan Carling, the Secretary General of AIPP, thanked all the participants for their contributions in making the consultation successful. Ms. Carling underscored that the world should know the good practices of shifting cultivation. She also encouraged the participants to identify the champions on shifting cultivation to help reverse the negative views on this, and recognize the actual contributions of sustainable shifting cultivation to food security, livelihoods and biodiversity enhancement, cultural integrity and wellbeing of indigenous peoples.

The last day of the workshop was the field visit to Mae Lam Kham village of Karen Indigenous community in Thailand. Most of the community members still practice traditional shifting cultivation in combination with paddy fields.  All participants learned about the variety of crops and the cultural values and rituals attached to the practice of shifting cultivation among others.

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