Indigenous peoples threatened by climate change

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

World day highlights fundamental role of indigenous peoples in food security

Increasingly tough climatic conditions and limited rights to land and other basic resources risk jeopardizing the lives and livelihoods of many indigenous groups that hold the key to our long term survival, FAO noted today on the eve of the International Day for the World’s Indigenous Peoples.

“Indigenous peoples are among the first to suffer from increasingly harsh and erratic weather conditions, and a generalized lack of empowerment to claim goods and services to which other population groups have greater access,” said Regina Laub, FAO focal point for Indigenous Peoples.

A number of indigenous groups make their living within vulnerable environments -- in mountainous areas, in the Arctic, in jungles or in dry lands -- and are thus often the first to discern and suffer the effects of climate change.

However, the indigenous are not just victims of global warming; they also have a critical role to play in supporting global adaptation to climate change. In Peru, for example, during the last planting season only those potatoes planted in the traditional way survived the unprecedented extreme frost temperature.

Indigenous communities are often the custodians of unique knowledge and skills and the genetic and biological diversity in plant and animal production that may be vital in adapting to climate change. Approximately 80 percent of the world’s remaining biodiversity is found within indigenous peoples’ territories.

Currently there are an estimated 370 million indigenous peoples representing at least 5 000 different indigenous groups in more than 70 countries. The Amazon basin alone is home to about 400 different indigenous groups. Defending the recovery of ancestral lands, the self-determination of indigenous peoples and their human rights is at the core of their claims.

Indigenous peoples are often among the most marginalized, showing higher levels of poverty and vulnerability than other population groups in Africa, Asia and Latin America.

Land rights

Only a few countries have recognized ancestral and customary rights to land, a cornerstone of the livelihoods of indigenous peoples. Lack of political will and the lack of legal recognition of indigenous rights in national legal frameworks and tenure regimes, different forms of discrimination and inappropriate policies towards indigenous peoples are limiting indigenous peoples’ land rights.

Sub-Saharan Africa

As a result of violent conflicts, increased competition, degradation of natural resources and negative effects of the HIV/AIDS pandemic, land tenure insecurity is growing in Sub-Saharan Africa. This has led to increased vulnerability of rural communities and a high incidence of extreme poverty and hunger.

FAO has developed activities for improving tenure security of the rural poor including indigenous groups in sub-Saharan Africa by giving disadvantaged groups greater control over decisions, particularly over natural resources, improving the legal capacities of rural poor communities to secure land rights. Better awareness and access to legal information, and creating rural institutions and simplified procedures for securing land and resources tenure are other objectives of FAO’s activities. FAO has documented good practices in several countries in sub-Saharan Africa as well as in the Pacific.