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Virtual Forum recap: Experiences and outlooks on wild foods and Indigenous food systems in Asia

ICCA Consortium Southeast Asia Members, Honorary members, and youth representatives participated in a recently organized virtual forum on wild foods, biodiversity, and forest-based livelihoods to explore an outlook towards inclusive food systems in Asia before 2030

By Diana San Jose
Program Officer, NTFP-EP Asia (NTFP-EP is a Member of the ICCA Consortium and hosts the regional coordination team for Southeast Asia) 

Non-Timber Forest Products Exchange Programme (NTFP-EP) and the Swedish International Agricultural Network Initiative (SIANI) recently organized a week-long virtual forum on wild foods, biodiversity, and livelihoods. From March 8 to 12, 2021, the events explored the outlook towards inclusive food systems in Asia to 2030.

The forum was the final event in a series of online discussions by the emerging Wild Foods, Biodiversity and Livelihoods Network, a SIANI Expert Group. It brought together various interested groups and individuals with a common interest and advocacy on sustainable food systems and wild foods conservation and revitalization.

More than 300 attendees participated in the events. The participants came from Indigenous Peoples and local communities, public agencies, NGOs, civil society organizations, research, and academic institutions. ICCA Consortium Members and Honorary members were among those who participated in the event as resource persons and speakers.

ICCA Consortium President and SIANI expert group member Teddy Baguilat, Jr. gave a keynote address during the opening session. In his keynote, Teddy discussed the role of ICCAs in strengthening biodiversity and food systems. He shared examples from the Philippines where wild food produce managed by Indigenous communities was able to provide funds and livelihoods, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. Communities were also able to market the products in the cities.

During the discussion, Gordon John of PACOS Trust (ICCA Consortium Member) from Sabah, Malaysia, said that “inclusive food systems must provide a safe space and platform for civil society organizations [and] also support sustainable climate-adaptive enterprises.” He also shared the importance of documentation and promotion of Indigenous knowledge and “the fusion of youth involvement and wild foods.”

The session on the state of wild foods in the region was held on March 10. Representatives of BUKLURAN (Philippines ICCA Consortium), James Alim and Datu Benny Cumatang, presented insights and findings from the Philippines country paper and case studies conducted in Sagada, Mountain Province Impasug-ong, Bukidnon. One of the findings revealed that the existing state policies supposed to protect Indigenous Peoples do not materialize well on the ground. They recommended broadening the recognition of traditional governance, especially in conservation and natural resources management.

The side event titled Conversations with Women and Youth, Food Heroes was held on March 11. During this event, speakers and participants discussed the realities of food security in the local context and the vision of women and youth for a food-secured future. The keynote presentation titled “A Vision for Our Food Systems: Healthy Landscapes, Nutritious Food, and Indigenous Values” was delivered by Josefa Cariño Tauli (Honorary member of the ICCA Consortium and Co-chair of Youth for Territories of Life).

Josefa shared her vision of “healthy diets, nutritious heritage food, and culture.” Such a future, she said, is respectful of the unseen and rooted in the community and sustainable economies. Josefa noted that she envisions a future where food systems are people-centered and rely on environment-friendly technologies and policies that safeguard heritage and keep wisdom alive.

In her presentation, Sefa said, “the marginalized and vulnerable are central and powerful in transforming our food systems and in living in harmony with nature.” When asked by a participant about her views on formal education and the continuity of cultural traditions, she mentioned that this is an area of concern, significantly when education is being modernized and is not available in one’s mother tongue. “Formal education can take away time for learning by doing, which is how Indigenous knowledge is passed down. We need education systems that are culture-rooted, culturally appropriate, and available in local languages,” she said.

In the same session, two women youth leaders belonging to the ICCA Youth Group in the Philippines shared their stories about wild foods and how it forms a significant part of their identity yet is also becoming vulnerable to threats. Coleen Sumonda, Indigenous Higaonon youth from Malitbog, Bukidnon, shared her growing concern about Indigenous youth becoming alienated from the forests, with some even ashamed of their traditional vegetables. “We should be proud of the food that we have inherited from our ancestors,” she said.

Kristel Quierrez, a Dumagat youth from Quezon, Philippines, added, “Wild foods and activities that we know and practice today is a primary element of our identity. A big part of our culture will also disappear, along with biodiversity and livelihoods, if these are lost.”

Junia Anilik, a Kadazan youth member of the Sabah Indigenous Youth Council and a Research Coordinator at PACOS Trust (ICCA Consortium Member), discussed research and documentation of traditional food sources and how the youth have been actively involved in such initiatives. She also mentioned, “Knowledge on the types of food [are decreasing] and the taste buds of the youth have changed. There are now increased choices for food sources, and sometimes [people] find it more convenient to buy in shops.”

Resource persons and speakers from Indonesia also took part in the event. Susiliwati from the Sungai Tohor community in Indonesia and Ayu Koes Dinar, the coordinator of the Civil Society Coalition for representatives from communities and civil society groups from Indonesia, participated in the discussions.

Finally, during the regional roundtable dialogue on March 11, BUKLURAN President Giovanni Reyes delivered a powerful message that underlined the centrality of the role of Indigenous Peoples in wild foods biodiversity conservation and food security. He said, “There is no food security without biodiversity, and there is no biodiversity without Indigenous Peoples’ traditional territories, and without traditional territories, no wild foods.”

The voices from the territories of life enriched the dialogue by providing inspiring messages and stories that illustrate the importance of wild foods, traditional food systems, and the people who ensure the sustainable stewardship of this critical natural and cultural resources. The stories from the different territories of life came alive during the forum, providing hope and a nuanced perspective of what inclusive food systems should look like as we envision an outlook towards 2030 and beyond.

The goal of the virtual forum activities of the Wild Foods, Biodiversity, and Livelihoods Network is to increase awareness, support, and recognition of the role of Indigenous Peoples, local communities, and wild foods for food security and community resilience. Learn more about the event and access recordings and resource materials at www.wildfoodsasia.com.

Featured image: NTFP-EP Asia