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Asia Indigenous Peoples Pact

Shifting Cultivation, Livelihood and Food Security: New and Old Challenges for Indigenous Peoples in Asia

Indigenous peoples across South and Southeast Asia depend fully and partly on shifting cultivation for their livelihood and food security. 2/3 of the estimated 370 million indigenous peoples are in Asia. These peoples are also known as ethnic minorities, tribal people, hill tribes, Adivasis, Janajati and aboriginal people. Shifting cultivation or rotational/ swidden farming is more than a century old sustainable land-use practice of indigenous peoples.

Shifting cultivation is probably one of the most misunderstood and thus controversial forms of land use. This is also know as rotational agriculture or swidden farming. What has been overstressed is the “ slash and burn” component, and the cultivation and fallow period are not fully acknowledge as good practices for biodiversity enhancement, food security and sustainable livelihoods for millions of indigenous peoples. Indigenous shifting cultivators are still widely neglected, criminalized and discriminated by policies and programmes of governments in most countries, and their land and resource rights are not recognized and protected. Likewise, rapid socio-economic and demographic changes are now taking place in indigenous territories, which are impacting on the practice of shifting cultivation, as well as to the food security and livelihoods of indigenous peoples.

In the context of the above, the FAO Regional Office in Asia and the Pacific (FAO-RAP) and the Asia Indigenous People Pact (AIPP) had started the project ‘Regional Support to Indigenous Peoples for Livelihood and Food Security’. Under this project, seven (7) case studies were conducted in Bangladesh, Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Laos, Nepal and Thailand to the livelihood and food security among indigenous shifting cultivation communities in South and Southeast Asia. The case studies were undertaken by highly competent researchers from May to July 2014.

On August 28-29, 2014, the findings of the case studies were presented and discussed in a multi-stakeholders consultation in Chiang Mai, Thailand. There were 51 participants representing government agencies, UN agencies, regional NGOs, Indigenous Peoples’ organizations and community leaders; and local governments. This briefing paper provides a summary of the main findings of the case studies and the common recommendations from the multi-stakeholders consultation.

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