Indigenous knowledge for sustainable development and food security: United Nations recognition of “Globally Important Agriculture Heritage Systems” practiced by tribal communities

The 27th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change – COP27 – builds on the outcomes of COP26 to deliver action on an array of issues critical to tackling the climate emergency – from urgently reducing greenhouse gas emissions, building resilience, and adapting to the inevitable impacts of climate change, to delivering on the commitments to finance climate action in developing countries. | Learn more: Delivering for people and the planet >>

Indigenous knowledge and farming practices of the region’s tribal people recognised for promoting food security and conserving biodiversity

Traditional farming systems in India have received a major boost at a time when Indian agriculture is struggling to come to terms with modern technologies. The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations has accorded the status of Globally Important Agricultural Heritage System (GIAHS) to the traditional agricultural system being practiced in Koraput region of Odisha.

Source: “UN heritage status for Odisha’s Koraput farming system” by Jyotika Sood  (Down To Earth, 4 January 2012)
Date Visited: 20 November 2021

The tribal households traditionally had a backyard garden that had multiple, multilayered and multipurpose indigenous trees, plants, herbs, and shrubs. […] The produce from this small garden was sufficient to meet the dietary and nutrition needs of a family for an entire year.

Learn more about food crops that are resistant to pests, grow on poor soils, flourish under changed climatic conditions and offer high nutritive value | Food distribution >>

The tribal food basket has always been ­diverse and nutritious, including maize, minor millets like kodo and kutki, oil seeds like ramtila, along with fruits, leaves, ­rhizomes, mushrooms, meat and fish. […] We have pushed them out of their complementary relationship with ecology, way of life and time-tested nutrition >>

Listen to “Green Thinking: Climate Justice” on BBC Radio 3

[4:48] The impact on their lives is massive, you are talking about climate justice. People that have taken the most risks in terms of natural resources being used to fuel modern life, by providing resources to extractive industry are being impacted the hardest. And they got relatively little of the benefits. […]

[24:28] A really good point about economically marginal communities and food production [is] that they are not producing a huge amount of food for the whole world but they are feeding themselves. And when all of a sudden all these non-urban communities couldn’t feed themselves, how would that create a crisis? It’s a crucial part of the puzzle to make sure that those communities remain as sustainable as they can and continue feeding themselves.

Source: Dr. Rick Knecht – Senior Lecturer in Archaeology at University of Aberdeen where he specialises in working with the Yup’ik communities of Alaska, both past and present, in “Green Thinking: Climate Justice” (BBC Radio 3 Arts & Ideas, 10 November 2021)
Date Visited: 20 November 2021

2012-2013 Twenty-Third Annual Report by the Centre for research on sustainable agricultural and rural development, Chennai 

[p. 6] Based on detailed documentation prepared by MSSRF on the unique characteristics of the Below Sea Level Farming System in the Kuttanad region of Kerala, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN (FAO) has recognised this as one of the Globally Important Agriculture Heritage Systems (GIAHS) at its annual meeting held in Japan in May 2013. This system provides an outstanding contribution to promoting food security, biodiversity, indigenous knowledge and cultural diversity for sustainable and equitable development. It is also pertinent to mention that the Traditional Agriculture System of Koraput, Odisha was declared as a GIAHS site last year, based on similar efforts made by MSSRF [M. S. Swaminathan Research Foundation].

[p. 121] Integrated Farming System

The Integrated Farming System (IFS) project was implemented to enhance agricultural production through optimal utilisation of resources for enhancing incomes of small and marginal farmers of the Koraput region. The project looked at strengthening and diversifying on-farm livelihoods through integrating crops and allied activities, utilising water for off- season crops and establishment of grass-roots institutions for self-reliance. A baseline survey was conducted in 6 villages with 326 households consisting of 72.3 per cent of Scheduled Tribe communities such as Paroja, Bhumia and Gadaba, and the rest of Rana, an OBC category. Income and literacy levels are quite low. Being rain-fed, the area utilised only 14.8 ha during rabi as against the 234.9 ha sown during kharif. […]

Source: M. S. Swaminathan Research Foundation (Chennai)
Address :
Date Visited: Fri Nov 21 2014 21:00:22 GMT+0100 (CET)

Movements of farmers and farm labourers […] are headed for serious trouble if they do not factor in the problems of climate change (which have already devastated agriculture in India); if they do not locate themselves in, and link their battles to, an agroecological approach.

P. Sainath in “We Didn’t Bleed Him Enough”: When Normal is the Problem (, 12 August 2020, first published in Frontline magazine) | More about climate change >>

Learn from M S Swaminathan – a world renowned scientist – how biological diversity contributes to public health, people’s livelihood and environmental security in addition to food security: his call on fellow citizens to use and share resources in a more sustainable and equitable manner; outlining the long journey from the 1992 Earth Summit to a commitment to foster inherited knowledge through India’s Biodiversity Act and Genome Saviour Award; an award intended to reward those who are “primary conservers” – guardians of biological diversity!

More about the work of his foundation which “aims to accelerate use of modern science and technology for agricultural and rural development to improve lives and livelihoods of communities.” – | Regarding the issues of food security raised above, and the nutritional value of indigenous grains, seeds and millets, read an in-depth report that concludes that “the tribal food basket has always been ­diverse and nutritious” >>

The dirt beneath our feet is getting poorer and on many farms worldwide, there is less and less of it. Without sufficient soil, our ability to grow food is threatened. | To read the full story with images, click here >>

Soil is largely made up of grains of weathered rock and the remains of dead, decayed plants. But it is far from an inert, lifeless substance. Soil is a living system bursting with microbes, fungi, insects, worms and other invertebrates. These all play important roles in breaking down material, delivering nutrients to plants and maintaining soil fertility.

Pump in pesticides or excessive amounts of inorganic fertilisers – which often contain heavy metals that can accumulate in the soil – and this living system begins to suffer. […]

This article is part of a new multimedia series Follow the Food by BBC Future and BBC World News. Follow the Food investigates how agriculture is responding to the profound challenges of climate change, environmental degradation and a rapidly growing global population.

Our food supply chains are increasingly globalised, with crops grown on one continent to be consumed on another. The challenges to farming also span the world.

Follow the Food traces emerging answers to these problems – both high-tech and low-tech, local and global – from farmers, growers and researchers across six continents.

Source: “Why soil is disappearing from farms” by Richard Gray
Date visited: 2 July 2020

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Secretary, Tribal Cultural Heritage in India Foundation (2010-2022)
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