By Baher Kamal
Indigenous peoples have rich ancestral cultures that consider their social, economic, environmental and spiritual systems interdependent. And thanks to their traditional knowledge and understanding of ecosystem management they make a valuable contribution to the heritage of humanity.
"But they are also among the most vulnerable, marginalized and disadvantaged groups," warns the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD).
"And they have varied deep and local knowledge of the natural world," highlights the Rome-based organization.
"Unfortunately, indigenous peoples often pay the price for being different and too often suffer discrimination," underlined IFAD, which held a Global Meeting on the Indigenous Peoples Forum from 10-13 this month in the Italian capital.
The agency of the United Nations (UN) will bring together representatives of indigenous institutions, as well as their partners to maintain a direct dialogue among all and improve the participation of indigenous peoples in the national programs it finances.
For centuries, indigenous communities have been “dispossessed of their lands, territories and resources and lost control over their lifestyles. It represents five percent of the world's population, but 15 percent of the poor, ”says IFAD.
One of the most effective ways to lift them out of poverty is to support their efforts to design and decide their destiny, as well as to ensure that they are involved in creating and managing development initiatives.
Rights of indigenous peoples
The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, adopted by the UN General Assembly on September 13, 2007, establishes a universal framework of minimum standards for their survival, well-being and the enjoyment of their rights.
The document deals with individual and collective rights, on issues of identity and culture, on education, health, employment and language. In addition, it prohibits discrimination and promotes their full and effective participation in all matters that concern them.
It also guarantees their right to remain different and to pursue their own priorities in terms of economic, social and cultural developments. The International Day of Indigenous Peoples is celebrated every year on August 9 in order to highlight their rights.
IFAD has been working with indigenous peoples for more than 30 years, and since 2003, 22 per cent of the fund's annual budget has been allocated to projects that concern them, mainly in Latin America and Asia.
Since 2007, it has managed the mechanism for assistance to indigenous peoples (IPAF). Through small loans of up to $ 50,000, it finances small projects proposed by them in order to strengthen their culture, identity, knowledge, natural resources, as well as human and intellectual property rights.
To facilitate the realization of commitments, IFAD created the Indigenous Peoples' Forum, which promotes dialogue and consultation between indigenous organizations, fund officials and member states.
By strengthening grassroots organizations and local governance, the fund also helps indigenous communities to participate in the design of strategies for their development and to pursue their own goals and visions.
Land is not only critical to the survival of indigenous peoples, as it is for most rural populations, but it is central to their identity.
“They have a deep spiritual relationship with their ancestral territories. Furthermore, when they have secure access to land, they also have a firm base from which to improve their livelihoods, ”IFAD stresses.
Indigenous communities and their knowledge systems can play a vital role in the conservation and sustainable management of natural resources.
Untapped potential of indigenous women
Also called a “bank of the poor” because it offers low-interest loans and credits to poor rural communities, IFAD recognizes the untapped potential of indigenous women as stewards of natural resources and biodiversity, as guardians of cultural diversity and as agents of peace and intermediaries in the mitigation of conflicts.
However, indigenous women are often among the most disadvantaged members of their communities due to their limited access to education, assets and credit, as well as their exclusion from decision-making processes.
IFAD is a specialized UN agency created as an international financial institution in 1977, one of the most important outcomes of the 1974 World Food Conference, organized to respond to the food crisis at the beginning of that decade and which particularly affected the African countries of the Sahel.
At the world conference, participants agreed that “an international fund should be created immediately to finance agricultural development projects, mainly for food production in developing countries”.
One of the most important elements derived from the conference was the understanding that the causes of food insecurity and famine were not due so much to poor harvests, but to structural problems related to poverty and the fact that most of the Poor populations in developing countries were concentrated in rural areas.
Since its inception, IFAD has invested $ 18.4 billion, benefiting some 464 million people in rural areas.
Translated by Verónica Firme
Photo: In most of the Andes, soil erosion is estimated to be one of the main factors limiting agricultural production. Credit: Juan I. Cortés / © IFAD