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Gen-Y of matriarchal societies to shape and revitalise their Indigenous Food Systems

As part of the Fellowship Programme, on 10th July, 2019, the Fellows visited the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) Headquarters in Rome, to share their case studies about renewal and enhancement of their indigenous food systems, which they formulated with the help of the training they received over 2 months. Owing to the uniqueness of a matriarchal society, the German Room at the FAO Headquarters was fully packed with participants from Bioversity International, FAO and IFAD, to learn about the Fellows’ case studies. FAO representatives from the Embassies of New Zealand, Norway, and Hungary came to specially listen to the presentations.

Yon Fernandez de Larrinoa, FAO Indigenous Peoples’ Team Leader and Gender Advocacy, FAO highlighted the need to listen and reflect on some of the issues that ‘matrifocal’ indigenous peoples are experiencing at the ground level. He appraised of the good work done by TIP which brought dedicated young people to share stories to the world after a participatory survey with different communities. He said that this work of TIP needs to get greater support. He summarised some of the indigenous initiatives of FAO, especially the studies of 12 indigenous food systems which will be brought out as a book very soon. TIP was a partner of this work and FAO was pleased that this collaboration had also helped TIP and its country partners to design the 4 studies that were presented.

Purpose of the TIP Indigenous Youth Fellowship Programme

In his opening remarks, Phrang Roy said that the matriarchal value system of social equality, harmony with and respect of nature, sharing of resources and consensus decision making is the best way forward to meet the global vision of 2030 and of not leaving anyone behind. The rich biodiversity that still remains in indigenous lands and territories is also a crucial asset of humanity for managing climate change. However, these resources and value systems are being threatened by the spread of globalisation and the growing urbanisation of rural and indigenous aspirations, extractive industries and the unintended consequences of some development initiatives. He also said that indigenous communities themselves are neglecting and underutilising the rich micro nutrient species in their indigenous food systems leading to several problems of micro nutrient deficiency.  Therefore, The Indigenous Partnership (TIP), through the Indigenous Fellowship Programme aims to create a cadre of indigenous youths to come forward, defend and revitalise their indigenous food systems for the wellbeing of their communities. He further said that this cadre must have an intercultural approach where traditional knowledge and contemporary science would generate knowledge, innovations and practices as equal partners.

Fellows present their case studies…

Before the Fellows shared their stories, a brief introduction of the Indigenous Food Systems methodology was given by Lukas Pawera, who is currently a TIP consultant. In short, the methodology aims to capture the strengths, challenges, needs, and ideas for actions. It also aims to build a relationship of Fellows with their communities.  TIP acknowledged the contribution of FAO and Bioversity in helping to develop a simple methodology that the Fellows were able to complete with minimal problems.

Chenxiang Marak from the Garo matriarchal community of Meghalaya, in her presentation highlighted the importance of biodiversity in community lands and forest areas for food and nutritional security in the village that she studied. She said that although shifting cultivation, in this particular village, has reduced because of increasing monocropping, all the women go to the surrounding forests to collect wide varieties of wild edibles. She further explained all the foraged food is then shared amongst all households, confirming that the traditional sharing practice still continues. The custodianship of women over land is intact but the husband of the Nokma (the village Head, a woman) acts as her representative. This traditional practice does face some challenges today because of the surrounding and growing patriarchal values. She highlighted the need to revisit the values of matriarchal communities to address some of the challenges within indigenous food systems like monocropping and malnutrition.

Yani Nofri from the Minangkabau matriarchal community of West Sumatra, Indonesia stressed on the need to strengthen the existing knowledge that will empower young people to defend their indigenous food systems. She also highlighted the continuing strong position of the clan system within her own community and in the village that was studied. Although indigenous youths are migrating to urban centres, within the village, she found that there were a significant group of young people that are eager to revitalise their local food systems.

Merrysha Nongrum from the Khasi matriarchal society of Meghalaya, North East India stated that NESFAS, the organisation in which she is working, conducted a mapping of micro nutrient rich resources in 32 villages. The village that she studied had the highest biodiversity amongst the 32 villages. It is also a village where young people are active and have formed a Youth Parliament of their own. Yet, it is a village that faces many serious threats. A large part of the rich biodiversity area is likely to be submerged under a proposed Hydel Project of the Government of Meghalaya. She also stated that primary and secondary education is taking young boys from herding of animals, a traditional activity, and this conflict between the educational system and a traditional livelihood issue has not been resolved. Eager to ensure that community governance be guided by matriarchal vales, women in this village have become active members of the all-male Village Councils and have also formed their own women’s group to support and influence the community’s decision-making process. As a leader of the community, Merrysha Nongrum, over the past few years, and even today, is actively engaged in protesting against the construction of Hydel project in her village.

Edgar Oswaldo Monte Borges from Quantana Roo, Mexico stated that his village under study has been of recent origin where the environment around the village and milpa food system provide the highest biodiversity. He said that many of the households who had earlier depended on the production of chicleros (resins from a tree) for a ranch moved to milpa cultivation once the ranch closed. He highlighted the need to promote wild edible plants in their local diet systems and said that resilience can be strengthened by giving importance to the landscape management and biocultural diversity. He also strongly felt the need to work with young people and start introducing some of the local livelihood innovations that come from their Milpa farms.

After spending two months with the Fellows, Pius Ranee, a former Fellow, summarised the key takeaways of the 2019 TIP Fellowship Programme as follows:

  1. TIP and the Fellows have been sensitised through several discussions that the growing alienation of land and landlessness needs to be taken more seriously and indigenous peoples themselves need to have a deeper understanding of their own traditional land tenure systems and their emerging and urgent challenges;

  2. TIP, its partners and Fellows need to look into landscape management while trying to build the resilience of indigenous food systems;

  3. Creating platforms such as the Agroecology Learning Circles of NESFAS or the traditional dialogue platform of the Minangkabau community for traditional knowledge and contemporary science could co-create new knowledge, innovations and practices is important. FAO is eager to help these platforms through its Farmer Field School concept for indigenous peoples.

  4. To change the mindset of young people towards indigenous food systems, we need to develop their leadership skills and their ability to be well grounded in their traditional knowledge and also acquire skills and tools that will facilitate their work as community workers of indigenous peoples.

  5. To sustain these efforts, funds and people will be needed but the most important aspect is to sustain project initiatives through an actual movement building process.

Key issues that the session triggered…

  1. Climate change and its impact on local knowledge;

  2. In rich biodiversity areas, how must we address the issue of micro nutrient deficiency?

  3. The need to understand system thinking and use of contemporary tools of systems thinking to enhance the effectiveness of indigenous holistic observation and action;

  4. The importance of providing evidence for dialogue;

  5. The need to spread an agroecology approach.

The session was received well!

“This was the best technical session I have attended in FAO in 2019. We at FAO need to reflect bit more on our current work plan with reference to the proposals of the Fellows.” Jeffrey Y. Campbell, Manager of the Forest and Farm Facility (FFF) at FAO in Rome “This was a very interesting and convincing session as all the presentations are evidence based and it shows us the need of an inter-disciplinary approach to merge both traditional knowledge and modern knowledge to address some critical concerns.” Shantanu Mathur, Lead Adviser to the Associate Vice-President, Operations, at IFAD “This is an interesting session that highlights that the presence of biodiversity in itself may not be sufficient to conclude that there will be no micro nutrient deficiency in supporting communities.” Ganesh Thapa, former IFAD Regional Economist “It will be good to know what resources are there or will be needed to ensure the continuation of this Fellowship Programme” Anna Bruni Sabhaney “Systems thinking is very much a part of indigenous thinking and let us not forget this aspect.” Marcela Villarreal, Director, Partnership and South-South Cooperation Division (DPS), FAO

The Fellows speak…

“I am happy to see people recognise our way of life. This is good for my community.” Edgar Osvaldo Monte Borges

“Before presenting my case study, Bah Phrang had already arranged a few meetings with experts at FAO and this has helped in building the confidence rather than going directly to the conference room. It has become a big achievement for me because I could raise the issue of my village at a global level.” Merrysha Nongrum

“We need more time to discuss with people at FAO because I could find many people interested in our topics. Based on our discussion with experts at FAO, I realised that we need to pay some more attention to fishery.” Yoni Nafri

“We need to start looking into the marketing aspect of local food not just by depending on outside food. I also learnt the need to have a good partnership with other organisations for making a movement-building.” Chenxiang Marak



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