Being addressed with respect as “Bah” Phrang Roy, a new novelty for a UN or a global political platform, the Coordinator of TIP and Founding Chairperson of NESFAS represents the voice of Indigenous Peoples at the UN Food Systems Pre Summit event to defend and promote the strengths of diverse local food systems.
As part of the Decade of Action to achieve Sustainable Development Goals by 2030, the UN Secretary-General António Guterres has convened a Food Systems Summit scheduled for September this year. With one eye on delivering progress on all 17 SDGs and the other on “building back better” from COVID-19, the Summit is set to launch bold new actions, each of which relies to some degree on healthier, more sustainable and equitable food systems.
As a preparatory meeting for the Summit, the UN organised the Pre-Summit of the UN Food System Summit from 26-28th July 2021. This year’s UN Food System Summit is also the first-ever summit that recognises the contribution and voices of Indigenous Peoples in the Global food systems Summit. Currently, in the Pre-Summit being held virtually at Rome, Bah Phrang Roy acted as one of the main representatives for Indigenous Peoples worldwide, defending and promoting Indigenous Food Systems.
On the 27th of July 2021, Bah Phrang Roy spoke in four different sessions at the Pre-Summit shedding light in which the Indigenous Peoples Food and Knowledge Systems continue to be marginalised in policy makings despite visible benefits and results. With the stern belief that the Indigenous Food Systems are the game-changers the UN is looking for in the upcoming Food Summit, Bah Phrang called on the UN to acknowledge the same. In the first session titled “Ensuring No One is Left Behind: Equitable Livelihoods in Food Systems”, Bah Phrang Roy was quoted saying, “Indigenous people have been shouting from the hilltops that our indigenous food systems are game-changers and they need acknowledgement and specific support. Unfortunately, no one has seriously listened to us so far.”
He cited an example of how a recent study on 18 villages in the North East of India showed a virtually non-existent severe food insecurity among the villages. This was proof of how the food systems and knowledge of Indigenous Peoples often left no one behind. Speaking of Indigenous Peoples and the need to protect their lands, Bah Phrang Roy reiterated that while Indigenous Peoples are not vulnerable, they are often put in a position of vulnerability in many countries worldwide. Often, this exploitation of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples is due to the absence of proper laws that protect their lands. For this to change, he advocated an intercultural approach in education in schools and universities.
One of the main pioneers in bringing the movement of Indigenous Peoples to the UN, Bah Phrang is highly revered among the panellists and the Indigenous Peoples community alike. In all the sessions, he was addressed with the Khasi prefix “Bah” instead of Mr. or Dr. acknowledging the indigenous way of referring to people which has been achieved through his constant effort.
Bah Phrang also made a rallying call to confront the global food industry that remains major contributors to the current social, environmental, and economic crises that are affecting the entire planet. Unlike Indigenous Peoples’ food systems that leave no one behind, the global food industry, although considered one of the biggest employers in the world, is also an industry that leaves so many behind. As such, he spoke sternly against large agri-based business projects and urges for proactive resistance against such undertakings.
On the other hand, Bah Phrang believes Shifting Cultivation, mobile fishing and hunting, and transhumance are all essential for biodiversity conservation and Indigenous Food Systems. He also brought up the White Wiphala Paper developed by The Global Hub on Indigenous Peoples Food Systems as a contribution to the UN Food System Summit. The paper emphasises the recognition of Indigenous Peoples’ land and territories and their effective landscape management practices. It supports bio-centric restoration, scale out agroecology production systems and a shift towards nature positive food production. As custodians and enhancers of 80% of biodiversity globally, Bah Phrang called on the UN many times in his sessions to categorically acknowledge the food system of the 470 million Indigenous Peoples worldwide.
Bah Phrang also requested the UN to set up an autonomously managed Indigenous Peoples Trust Funds to revitalise Indigenous Peoples’ Food Systems. He voiced his strong support for women empowerment citing examples of how matriarchal indigenous communities are socially egalitarian, economically balanced, and politically based on consensus building. “They (women) can be our beacons of hope to build back better with women’s agency, voice and leadership,” he added.