Indigenous food systems and nutrition in the spotlight

reblogged from IFAD

The second global meeting of the Indigenous People’s forum convened on 12-13 February 2015 in IFAD’s headquarters. Held every two years, the Forum is a dialogue between the United Nations, represented by IFAD, and representatives of indigenous peoples from all over the world acting as ambassadors of their own experiences, traditions and cultures. This year the focus was on indigenous peoples’ food systems and sustainable livelihoods.

Indigenous peoples have a long history of food systems depending on the traditional knowledge of their local ecosystems. In addition, they play a vital role in preserving and recovering the natural environment that shaped their livelihoods and cultures for centuries, acting as stewards of biodiversity.

In this regard, the Forum hosted a session on the relationship between indigenous food systems and nutrition, and two experts on the subject were invited to speak: Harriet Kuhnlein, Professor Emerita of Human Nutrition and founding Director of the Centre for Indigenous Peoples’ Nutrition and Environment (CINE) at McGill University in Canada, and Treena Delormier, Assistant Professor, Native Hawaiian and Indigenous Health, University of Hawaii.

Nutritional value of indigenous foods

CINE’s research started in Canada with the Mohawk Council of Kahnáwake, located near Montréal, Québec. Interested in understanding the impact of indigenous food in indigenous peoples’ diets, Kuhnlein and her team developed a methodology on documenting traditional food systems to understand their nutrient composition, benefits and threats. The data collected would then be kept to help the community preserve knowledge on local food systems.

Through the methodology, they developed a range of case studies that involve 12 communities worldwide. CINE’s team found that generally, when indigenous products are part of people’s diets, they have a positive nutritional impact and should be protected. An example that surprised me comes from the Inuit community, where the traditional food is muktuk, the skin and underlying blubber of the whale. These products contain vitamin C and A, besides micro-nutrients such as iron and zinc, that can be of particular relevance in areas where the growth of fruits and vegetables is constrained by ecological features.

It was also interesting to listen to the experience of Delormier, who herself comes from the Mohawk Council of Kahnáwake and stressed that food is what we are and where we come from. Delormier explained that economic, social and environmental transitions are threatening their food systems. She emphasized that often indigenous products are of higher nutritional value than food bought in supermarkets – which, while inexpensive, is low-quality food that increases carbohydrates and sugars in diets and can lead to obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes, premature heart disease and shortened life spans.

A pertinent comment came from an indigenous peoples’ representative from Bolivia, who stressed that indigenous products are central to their nutrition and cultural identity. However, in some cases external forces undermine the preservation of food systems, as it is happening with quinoa, which is becoming less available to indigenous people given its international demand. In these cases, long term, sustainable solutions are overlooked in favour of the driving forces of globalization. Another example comes from the Green Revolution that – through large mono-cropping of high-yield varieties – led to high dependence on a few major cereals varieties and loss of biodiversity.

Dietary diversity and resilience

During the Forum, participants said that indigenous peoples’ can have a role in feeding the growing global population through their sustainable ways of preserving ecosystems and therefore conserving the world’s biodiversity. However, they still need recognition of their rights, governments willing to work together with them in partnership, access to technologies, and a policy balance between the growing pressure of globalization and the preservation of indigenous culture and food systems.

Through the Indigenous People’s Forum and a dedicated session on indigenous food systems at IFAD’s Governing Council, IFAD renewed its engagement in preserving and supporting indigenous food systems, rights and identity. Juliane Friedrich, IFAD Senior Technical Specialist on Nutrition, encouraged a holistic approach to improving nutrition, and emphasized the important role of indigenous peoples in that approach. Her point was supported by Adolfo Brizzi, Director of the Policy and Technical Advisory Division at IFAD, who said that diversity is resilience and resilience is a way to manage risks.


Food losses and waste in the context of sustainable food systems

Although accurate estimates of losses and waste in the food system are unavailable, the best evidence to date indicates that globally around one -third of the food produced is lost or wasted along the food chain, from production to consumption.
The High Level Panel of Experts on Food Security and Nutrition(HLPE) , presents a synthesis of existing evidence about the causes of food losses and waste and suggests action to reduce them in order to improve food and nutrition security and the sustainability of food systems. The report, given the diversity of contexts, is to help all concerned actors to reduce food losses and waste by identifying the causes and potential solutions that may be implemented, alone or in a coordinated way, by the relevant actors in the food system, including the public and private sectors, civil society, individual producers, wholesalers, retailers and consumers. Successful reduction of food losses and waste will save resources and has the potential to improve food security and nutrition, goals shared with the Zero Hunger Challenge and the post- 2015 sustainable development agenda.
The issue of global food losses and waste has recently received much attention and has been given
high visibility. According to FAO, almost one-third of food produced for human consumption–approximately 1.3 billion tonnes per year–is either lost or wasted globally: their reduction is now presented as essential to improve food security and to reduce the environmental footprint of food systems.
The very extent of food losses and waste invites to consider them not as an accident but as an integral
part of food systems. Food losses and waste are consequences of the way food systems function,
technically, culturally and economically. The report analyses food losses and waste in a triple perspective: a systemic perspective, a sustainability perspective, including the environmental, social and economic dimensions of sustainability, and a food security and nutrition perspective, looking at how food losses and waste relate to the various dimensions of food security and nutrition.
Main findings – Scope and extent of food losses and waste
1. Food losses and waste have been approached by two different angles: either from a waste
perspective, with the associated environmental concerns, or from a food perspective, with the associated food security concerns. This duality of approaches has often led to confusions on the definition and scope of food losses and waste, contributing to unreliability and lack of clarity of data.
2. The report adopts a food security and nutrition lens and defines food losses and waste (FLW) as
“a decrease, at all stages of the food chain from harvest to consumption,in mass, of food that was originally intended for human consumption, regardless of the cause”.
For the purpose of terminology, the report makes the distinction between food losses,occurring before
consumption level regardless of the cause , and food waste, occurring at consumption level regardless of the cause. It further proposes to define food quality loss or waste (FQLW) which refers to the decrease of a quality attribute of food (nutrition, aspect, etc.), linked to the degradation of the product, at all stages of the food chain from harvest to consumption.
3. There are numerous studies on FLW with diverse scopes and methodologies, making them difficult to compare. At the global level, recent studies use the data compiled for the FAO report published in 2011, which estimated global FLW at one third of food produced for human consumption in mass (equivalent to 1.3 billion tonnes per year), or one quarter as measured in calories.
4. The distribution of FLW along the food chain varies greatly by region and product. In middle and
high- income countries, most of the FLW occur at distribution and consumption; in low income
countries , FLW are concentrated at production and post-harvest. Per-capita FLW peaks at 280–
300 kg/cap/year in Europe and North America and amounts to 120–170 kg/cap/year in sub- Saharan Africa and South/Southeast Asia.
5. Different definitions, different metrics, different measurement protocols and the lack of standards
for data collectionadapted to different countries and products, makes it difficult – and sometimes impossible–
to compare studies, systems and countries. There is also no agreed method to evaluate the quality of data, method and numbers produced. This situation is a huge barrier to understanding and identifying the causes and extent of FLW, the potential for solutions, the priorities for action and the monitoring of progress in reducing FLW. This is why there are currently strong calls for the development of global protocols to measure FLW, taking into account the large number of variables and country specificities, towards a harmonization of definitions and measurement methods, with a view to improve the reliability, comparability and transparency of data
The full report can be found here:
Consumers will have to play a great role in the reduction of FLW. Household waste results from a complex set of drivers and factors such as income level, household size, urbanization,infrastructure,the structure of the food supply chain, food cultures,trust in businesses and institutions(including infood safety regulations), and awareness levels, etc.Reduction of consumer waste will result from more sustainable buying, cooking and eating behaviour. Different type of interventions can support this, such as awareness – raising campaigns, experimental interventions, social community approaches,education of young urban and rural people, and women empowerment. Attempts to restore the true value of food,and to restore consumers’ recognition of how food is produced and valued in the supply chain,will also lead to reduced consumer waste, as rural–urban movements such as the Slow Food presidiums can show, or as “pick and pay” self-picking initiatives demonstrate.
Food waste and loss

The Rome Declaration on Nutrition

The second International Conference on Nutrition (ICN2) is expected to endorse a political outcome document, the Rome Declaration on Nutrition and an accompanying technical Framework for Action to guide its implementation. The Declaration commits countries to eradicate hunger and prevent all forms of malnutrition worldwide – particularly undernutrition in children, anaemia in women and children, among other micronutrient deficiencies – as well as reverse the trend in obesity. It aims to do this by increasing investments in food systems to improve people’s diets and nutrition. The Framework proposes the creation of an enabling environment for effective action and for strengthening sustainable food systems, including through investments in pro-poor agriculture and smallholder agriculture to improve diets and raise levels of nutrition; nutrition education and information; social protection; strengthened health systems for addressing specific conditions; improved water, sanitation and hygiene; and improved food safety.

Date: 17/11/2014
Download: PDF version