The Member Nations of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) have defined the organization’s ultimate objectives as being to “improve agricultural productivity, raise levels of nutrition, better the lives of rural populations, and contribute to the growth of the world economy.” As a specialized agency of the United Nations (UN), FAO has a primary role to play in promoting greater food security and reduced poverty. FAO has long realized that achieving these objectives requires the involvement of society at large; indeed, the consensus that development efforts must include various actors and stakeholders is now widespread.
Indigenous peoples must be considered an undeniable stakeholder in a development agenda shaped by such a mandate. Recent estimates indicate that although indigenous peoples make up approximately 5 percent of the world’s total population, they comprise about 15 percent of the global poor. The adversities faced by indigenous peoples have grown in the last few decades, but so too have the recognition of and appreciation for their potential contributions to sustainable development and natural resources management. Protecting the livelihood systems and specialized knowledge that are held within these communities will reverse the steady erosion of indigenous cultures but may also bring novel solutions to the fight against food insecurity and malnutrition, poverty and environmental degradation.
In response to continuously growing pressures and rapid changes taking place in the world, the international community has urged for more concerted efforts to respond to the needs and demands of indigenous peoples. The UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), adopted by the General Assembly in September 2007, has given a major impetus to these efforts by prompting national authorities to pursue greater action on this front. The Declaration is today the highest international standard in this area. This and International Labour Organization (ILO) Convention 169 (Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Convention, 1989) are the most powerful and comprehensive international instruments recognizing the situation of indigenous peoples and defending their most important rights. FAO’s responsibility to observe and implement UNDRIP is clearly stated in Article 41:
The organs and specialized agencies of the United Nations system and other intergovernmental organizations shall contribute to the full realization of the provisions of this Declaration through the mobilization, inter alia, of financial cooperation and technical assistance. Ways and means of ensuring participation of indigenous peoples on issues affecting them shall be established
Consistent with FAO’s mandate to pursue a world free from hunger and malnutrition, and grounded in the utmost respect for universal human rights, this policy is in place to ensure that FAO will make all due efforts to respect, include and promote indigenous peoples’ issues in its overall work. The policy is motivated by the fundamental fact that indigenous communities make up a substantial portion of the world’s food insecure, that respect for indigenous knowledge, cultures and traditional practices contributes to sustainable and equitable development and by recognition of the benefits that arise from closer collaboration. At the same time, it responds to the explicit request made by the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII), by fellow UN agencies and by indigenous peoples themselves to develop a framework for ensuring that the needs and concerns of indigenous peoples are effectively considered.
The purpose of this policy document is to provide FAO with a framework to guide its work on indigenous peoples’ issues. Current activities follow no systematic course of action relating to such issues and will benefit greatly from the delineation of a common direction and approach. At the same time, it is also of relevance to indigenous peoples themselves, helping to communicate and clarify what they can reasonably expect from the Organization.
The document highlights some of the key areas covered by FAO’s mandate and addresses the motivations as well as the advantages of a partnership between FAO and indigenous peoples. It is the result of a series of consultations with leaders of indigenous peoples, the UNPFII, the Inter-Agency Support Group on Indigenous Issues (IASG) and members of FAO’s professional body. As such, it addresses a diverse set of outlooks and feasible opportunities for future work.