Vueti Navakavu: A success story from Fiji

Vueti Navakavu, an LMMA and registered ICCA on Fiji’s main island of Viti Levu, is a community conserved marine area. Designated in 2002 to address the decline of fish populations observed by the communities in their traditional fishing ground (locally known as qoliqoli and covering an area of 19.1 km²), this area is managed by the Yavusa Navakaavu clan to improve the management and protection of their marine area. Its aim is to conserve a healthy ecosystem that can support abundant and diverse marine life as a source of food and income. Following the creation of the Qoliqoli Committee and several consultations with the wider community, a system of community fish wardens was introduced to stop illegal fishing, and a no-take area constituting 20 per cent of the total area was created. Following the establishment of the reserve, the condition of the coral reefs has stabilised and fish catches and invertebrate populations have increased. This in turn has reduced the time and effort required for catching fish and increased the income of the fishermen in the local community.

The story of the Potato Park

We are potato farmers and papa arariwa (guardians of the native potato), passionate in the conservation of our native potato diversity now and for future generations. I live in the Community of Paru Paru. My community is one of the six that make up the Potato Park, established in the year 2000 in collaboration with Asociación ANDES.1 Our home is near Pisaq, Cusco, in the heart of the Sacred Valley of the Incas.

The Potato Park is an Indigenous Biocultural Territory. We call it “Papa Ayllu” because it is modelled on the Andean Ayllu system2, which is a holistic community where humans (and domesticated species), the wild, and the sacred, live together in harmonious and reciprocal co-existence. This model is key for maintaining the habitats and the evolutionary processes that have created the potato germplasm. The Ayllu model helps us to maintain potato genetic diversity along with other domesticated and wild species and the diverse habitats where they thrive. In turn this helps to maintain healthy wildlife and pollinators, and we have better decomposition of organic matter and soil fertility.

My land, Peru, is a territory blessed with diversity. Our mountains have marked variations in elevation and microclimates. The efforts of our ancestors have made this land one of the world’s most important centres of plant domestication and diversification. We have adapted and farmed diverse crops in all altitudes3. For us, however, the potato is the most important food crop. Over 2,000 different varieties are known to our peoples in Southern Peru alone. At the outset of the Potato Park initiative we collected 778 varieties from our own and surrounding communities; later we added 85 varieties through community to community exchanges and donations. The Park now has a total collection of 1,430 potato cultivars, 410 of which were incorporated through a Repatriation Agreement signed with the International Potato Centre (CIP) in 2004. This agreement led to the restitution of the diversity of the Park and also to recognition of indigenous peoples’ rights relevant to the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity.

Other crops in the collection include unique Andean tubers and grains. The Park harbours six of the nine existing cultivated potato species, two semi-cultivated species and six wild relatives. We farmers recognise and name all these potatoes as distinct units. I myself farm around 150 cultivars of native potato in my community, all different in shape, colour, texture and flavour. They are beautiful. My brothers and sisters do the same in their communities. Our indigenous knowledge, particularly of the women, is responsible for the high number of varieties we have in the pool of species used in our fields and kitchens. Women ultimately make the decisions about what variety to maintain, incorporate or discard from the repertoire of varieties we keep in our households.

Biocultural heritage improves our food security, our local economy, the resilience of the agro-ecosystems and thus the wellbeing of the Potato Park communities. Diversity helps us to continue to adapt our potato varieties to the heterogeneous and fast changing environment and makes them less vulnerable to pests, diseases and severe weather conditions that we face in the Andes.

In managing this great diversity, we have merged in-situ and ex-situ conservation strategies. Our in-situ conservation approach combines community seed banks (which are probably more dynamic than conventional gene banks because they are actively used by all community members) with the conservation of wild relatives within genetic reserves4, and the continued cultivation of potato genetic resources in our indigenous farms. This approach has minimised genetic erosion as well as generating endogenous plans5 based on traditional knowledge, which ensure that genetic variation is secure for the future.

The repatriation process has fostered a dynamic horizontal partnership with other scientists, creating exemplary collaborative partnerships based on written agreements and mutual respect with research centres, including national and international universities. These collaborations focus on complementarities and on producing new ideas and innovations from the cross-fertilisation of indigenous knowledge and science that benefits our communities.

The Potato Park is managed collectively by a decision-making body called the Association of Communities of the Potato Park. This leadership is an inter-community institution working for the collective. Local institutions function and coordinate with the leadership at various different levels of governance. These institutions have been effective in fostering local innovations based on their deep knowledge of the local environment and the application of customary rules, norms and protocols. Livelihood and income generation from crop diversity has been achieved by fostering local microenterprises, and the generation of benefits through these micro-enterprises has gone hand in hand with the promotion of the maintenance of crop diversity on farms. Government support, through the Peruvian Biodiversity and Biosafety Unit of the Environment Ministry, has been essential for both ex-situ and in-situ conservation at the Potato Park.6

The Indigenous Terra Madre 2015

In November 2015 the second Indigenous Terra Madre (ITM 2015) was held in Shillong, Meghalaya, North-east India. Indigenous Terra Madre is an event organised by the Indigenous Partnership for Agro-biodiversity and Food Sovereignty, Slow Food International and North East Slow Food and Agrobiodiversity Society (NESFAS).

Bringing together 640 delegates representing more than 170 indigenous food communities from 62 countries across the world, the ITM celebrated the cultural and biological diversity of indigenous communities as expressed in their songs, dance, dress, folklores and food systems. Thematic sessions centred around issues of advancing local food systems, clean and fair food, building networks of local climate-smart crops, and promoting resilient livelihoods and nutritional security. The event showcased indigenous traditional knowledge, evolving skills including culinary innovations, and sustainable practices that safeguard agro-biodiversity and contribute to resilient food systems. The event also facilitated engagement among food communities and participating scientists and policymakers. The gathering adopted “The Shillong Declaration” – a declaration with commitments and proposals for action – which has since been disseminated and communicated widely.7

Exploring a labelling scheme for biocultural heritage-based products

The International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED), the University of Leeds and the Asociación ANDES from Peru are exploring the development of a new labelling or indication scheme for “biocultural, heritage-based products”. An informal collective trademark developed by the Potato Park in Peru (described under Target 13) increased revenues and strengthened social cohesion and environmental stewardship, but the communities were not able to register formal trademarks for their products due to bureaucratic difficulties. The proposed scheme will emphasise and authenticate the way that cultural and spiritual values, local knowledge, innovations and practices, and the local environment are all linked closely together, giving products a unique character. The scheme aims to ensure that as much of the market value as possible is captured locally, through “full benefit capture”, rather than through the benefit-sharing approach developed by others (the access and benefit-sharing (ABS) model). Consultations on the design of the scheme and investigation into similar schemes are currently taking place. A number of key design questions around issues including accessibility, local language, certification versus labelling, and enforcement still need to be addressed. However, concrete initiatives like this hold the potential to promote continued and enhanced sustainable community-based agriculture, forestry and aquaculture while providing a source of income and incentives to sustain these practices.2

The traditional land use system of the Lua (La-weu) peoples in northern Thailand

The traditional land use system of the Lua (La-weu) peoples in northern Thailand includes different categories of conservation forests whose management and use is guided by various rules and agreements. They range from sacred forests, which can only be used for performing rituals, to forests where no trees are cut, and the only forms of harvest are gathering of timber and food. The Lua also practise rotational farming or shifting cultivation in areas which are unsuitable for rice paddy farming; each area is used for one year according to what is agreed in community meetings. The main crop is rice but many other plants are also grown in the fields. Land is cleared and dried for two months and then burned, but before burning, fire-break lines are cut near the fire protection forests to prevent spreading. When cutting the trees, the community members leave the stumps at a height of 60-100 cm and, after harvesting, trees sprout again from these stumps. This allows the forest to regenerate quickly. Land is left fallow for at least nine years. As a local leader explained:

If you farm like this, the soil will remain healthy and the rice is good”.2

History of the Ngati Hine pilot program for the monitoring, recovery, and protection of eels

Ngati Hine is a fishing nation in Aotearoa/New Zealand which cultivates a day to day relationship with eels. We maintain a high level of traditional knowledge and customary use, including on how to transfer and hold eels in boxes for up to twelve months. There is much concern over elvers (baby eels, tangariki in Māori) due to the man-made and natural obstructions within our catchments. Local environmental guardians (kaitiaki)2 have historically helped transfer the elvers above waterfalls and continue this practice today. This is embodied in the local story of a supernatural being tanisha 2,[Rangiriri, who saw young children using a kete (tightly woven flax basket) to help elvers up the waterfall at Otiria over 400 years ago.

In the 1980s a study was carried out on Ngati Hine eel harvesting that found that customary harvest practices producing approximately 30,000 kg of food were sustainable over a seven year period. Over the past ten years, Ngati Hine, alongside other customary and commercial fishers, have expressed concerns over declining eel populations. In 2011, we completed an eel population survey with the support of the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research, peer reviewed by the Ministry of Fisheries. The report confirmed the following: long fin female numbers are low in the upper catchments; there are several eel passage obstructions; significant habitats are degraded; there are lakes with the potential for stocking where eels can mature within four years, and there is potential to establish a nationally significant reserve area on the lower Taumarere River. A pilot project was subsequently designed to address these issues. The project vision was to enhance the relationship of local people with the eel population within Ngati Hine catchments as a pilot strategy that can be implemented across the North Island. The project is called “Kete Tangariki” and its main objectives are to:

  • Improve eel populations for customary and commercial interests;
  • Improve habitat appropriate for eels;
  • Support local, established and new, customary and commercial fishermen;
  • Advocate for laws and policies to improve eel management, engaging the local and central government, industry and the public.

Snapshot of outcomes and successes from the project are as follows:

  • The ideal eel habitat and methods of improvement, such as riparian planting (a traditional method of water management) were discussed. Underground wetlands were identified as important unique habitats which Ngati Hine must maintain.
  • Impacts of farming and pine forestry were identified as having harmful effects on elvers and eel habitats. Following these discussions, priority sites for enhancing this work were identified.

The pilot project brought together customary and commercial fishers from around the country who built stronger relationships with each other through improved respect and understanding. There is a strong desire to continue this journey of assessing the on-going health and management of eels.

Ngati Hine provided information to the international panel reviewing the state of eels, which assessed its monitoring information. Since the review, the Ministry for Primary Industries has contracted Ngati Hine to carry out a national inventory of indigenous communities’ monitoring of eel stocks and has discussed whether we would be interested in adapting a common methodology so that we can contribute to national reports on the status of eels. The results and any future work on this inventory will ultimately influence regulations surrounding sustainable fishing in Aotearoa.

Kapuas Hulu, West Kalimantan, Indonesia: indigenous Dayak try to save forest, river and lake habitats under threat from palm oil expansion

Protecting forests and food resources from degradation due to land use change is an important issue in Kapuas Hulu district, West Kalimantan. Although it is home to two big national parks (Danau Sentarum and Betung Kerihun National Parks), at least five oil palm plantation companies are active in the area. Due to oil palm expansion, the area has lost several significant ecosystems such as forest, river or lake ecosystems. These ecosystems are customarily managed by indigenous peoples (Dayak) or Malay descendants that have lived in the area for centuries.

Seberuang sub-district has the biggest intact forest in the area (some of it protected) and is therefore key to preventing further degradation from oil palm plantations, which are growing significantly in this district.

Alongside three neighbouring villages, Bati village has rejected plans for oil palm expansion in the area. The villagers heard about an oil palm company seeking a survey permit in their area. Concerned that this would threaten forests vital to them, the communities found themselves in a race against time to prevent the oil palm expansion. In March 2015, letters were sent to the District Head (Bupati) of Kapuas Hulu rejecting the proposed expansion plan. As a young man from Bati village explained:

We have seen the impacts of oil palm in neighbouring areas that are devastating. We are concerned that our culture will disappear with the arrival of oil palm plantations.”

Dayak communities in other parts of Kapuas Hulu have already been affected by oil palm expansion. Since the start of the operation of Golden Agri Resources’ (GAR) subsidiary PT KPC in 2007, unclear processes of land acquisition and non-compliance with social and environmental standards have caused protests and demonstrations and resulted in major rifts in almost all the affected communities. Following an international campaign, GAR developed a Forest Conservation Policy related to the zoning of High Carbon Stocks (HCS) forests as a tool to achieve “zero deforestation” in palm oil production. The site of PT KPC’s operations was selected as a pilot area.

Several of the affected communities undertook participatory mapping exercises and action research to develop community land use plans. This allowed them to identify how much land each family will need to sustain their ways of life, and to take an informed decision on whether to lease or sell their land for oil palm development. As the head of custom of the hamlet of Kenabak Hulu said:

We need to explain where our customary lands and forests are, which are ours, because of certain conditions and events of the past. For example sacred sites and untouchable areas are guarded by us and we make the decision to look after such areas collectively and make them a sacred site. When we do this we also invite the neighbouring villages to witness the agreement and make the area a customary forest. This is because it is not just our own beliefs [that matter] but these need to be transferred with our traditional knowledge and culture to the coming generations. This is how we came up with an agreement about which areas should not be used commercially or cultivated”3

Several villages rejected the proposed palm oil expansion plans (including Kenabak Hulu) and the lands of these communities were excised from the concession area. Because of this as much as 90 per cent of the HCS forests identified in GAR’s provisional concession ended up outside the company’s permit and jurisdiction. The communities emphasised that it has been they who have maintained these forests up to now and who value them and can look after them in the future. Nevertheless, their customary rights to these lands are still not recognised by district and national governments.