International Indigenous Food Sovereignty

Founded 32 years ago to work poverty issues, violence, exclusion of women and Mother Earth, this group demonstrates the role of living beings to repair the web of life.

AFDES logo

Our planet is not a dead structure – María Cristina Cuc Vásquez

Regenerating Values and Planetary Connections

What does indigenous food sovereignty mean around the world and how are communities working toward that goal? A sampling of women-led initiatives and leaders include a focus on amaranth, potatoes, and salmon:

GUATEMALA: Asociacion Femenina para el Desarrollode Sacatepequez (AFDES – Women’s Association for the Development of Sacatepequez), Guatemala

Founded 32 years ago to work on issues of poverty, violence, and exclusion of women and Mother Earth, this group demonstrates the role of living beings to repair the web of life. Members organize themselves as indigenous women to mobilize about cultural issues; for instance, they seek intellectual property rights for indigenous clothes rather than being exploited by foreigners.

“We don’t have land titles, but have our backyard gardens and can start family vegetable gardens, produce our own food, and relearn practices of organic foods,” notes Maria Angelina Aspuac of AFDES. “We are recovering our soils, our fertilizers, and imagining a different landscape to cultivate food and biodiversity of our crops.”

For instance, the super-food amaranth is being reintroduced into production, planted with beans, corns, and squash as the Fourth Sister. This is also an act of reclaiming culture, since Spanish conquerors once burned Mayan amaranth and prohibited indigenous peoples from producing it.

Today, AFDES sees amaranth as a symbol of determining alternative outcomes. Production of apparel, creation of textiles, and agriculture is helping women to determine alternative productions and align traditional practices with values, another benefit of food sovereignty.

PERU: – Asociacion para le naturaleza y el Desarrollo Sostenible (ANDES, Association for Nature and Sustainable Development), Peru

ANDES is an artisan collective for indigenous weaving and medicinal plants, working with 39 local communities that are in poverty or extreme poverty. It also focuses on the conservation of the Potato Park, a symbol for indigenous farmers against global change and dismal food futures.

“The potato is a major food crop and deeply rooted in the Quechua peoples,” states Jessica Villacorta, of ANDES. “Most important, we’re keeping our ancestral knowledge in reclaiming and recuperating from climate change.”

The Potato Park is not only part of an ancestral practice of crop diversity. It is also part of sovereignty principles as:

  • Seed as a sacred sovereignty that cannot be controlled or denied by colonial or neo-colonial laws, policies, and institutions such as the World Trade Organization or transnational corporations;
  • Ayni (sacred reciprocity) as the action that ensures the maintenance of traditional food systems and seed strategies, such as barter markets, community food exchanges, etc.;
  • Collective action for self-determination and freedom, with a communal system allowing cohesive group decisions over the quality and amount of food that is gathered, grown, and consumed;
  • Bottom-up policies, including ordinances against transgenics and biopiracy and inclusion of the potato collection into the Multilateral System of the Food and Agriculture Organization.

Such practices are also displayed in tourist packages of the Potato Park, including three or five day treks, one day tour, or Andean cooking circuit.

CANADA: Okanagan Nation initiatives to restore health, culture, community, and waterways

Chiefs of this First Nation dream of wild sockeye raised by the people from the Columbia River system. It is reconciliation with what is indigenous, improving local food economy while increasing land and access specific to indigenous peoples.

As recently as the mid-nineties, only 2,000 sockeye were seen in spawning grounds that now see nearly 300,000. It’s been a transnational partnership between the Okanagan Nation Alliance with tribes in Washington state, as well as the Department of Fisheries and Oceans and the province of British Columbia.

According to Dr. Jeannette Armstrong of the University of British Columbia, wild food sovereignty is good for the Earth and is also a proactive way to implement the United Nations Convention on Biodiversity. The decade-long sockeye restoration, for instance, promotes system-wide restoration and preservation for wild food harvesting area.

“Now, freshsockeye is shared in annual feasts open to all and the nation can own a commercial fishery for canned and fresh fish,” observed Armstrong. “It’s a reason for providers to understand the protection of our land, plus relearning that our food is the ‘right’ food.”

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