Contributing Author: Alex Bezahler
In honor of the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples, Food Tank is highlighting 17 global organizations that promote indigenous food systems. Through research, education, and increased awareness, these organizations focus on encouraging indigenous culture.
These organizations are based across the world and focus on food sovereignty, indigenous nutrition, and protecting traditional agriculture. Some of them are small—operating in a single U.S. state—while others function globally. And many are focused on ways to improve policies or to better share practices.
The First Nations Development Institute recognizes one of the major indigenous food problems in the United States: “Right now only three-tenths of one percent of foundation funding goes to Native causes, while Native Americans represent over two percent of the U.S. population. This disparity is compounded by the fact that the Native population has some of the highest rates of poverty, food insecurity, diet-related illness, and the poorest educational outcomes.” That disparity is not unique to the U.S. and it makes the passing on of indigenous food traditions more important than ever for expanding indigenous food sovereignty.
The African Biodiversity Network publishes research, raises awareness of African food issues, and promotes biodiversity protection. The organization aims to connect a wide network of Africans to create resiliency among native African farmers and local communities. The African Biodiversity Network notes that this has resulted in work throughout 12 African nations—Benin, Botswana, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Mozambique, South Africa, Tanzania, Togo, Uganda, Zambia, and Zimbabwe. The network promotes Indigenous food through its grassroots research center, the Centre For Indigenous Knowledge and Organisational Development.
The Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa is focused on creating a network of organizations that work to advance food sovereignty and agroecology throughout Africa. The organization is based in Uganda and has 30 members including smallholder farmers, environmentalists, pastoralists, hunter/gatherers, indigenous peoples, and faith-based institutions. In working for food sovereignty, The Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa is working to uphold traditional food knowledge while developing ways to live in harmony with nature.
Located in Cusco, Peru, the Andean Alliance for Sustainable Development works at the intersection of academia and indigenous culture to promote native community development projects and indigenous agriculture. Sustainable agricultural projects sponsored by the program include a school greenhouse project, a family greenhouse system, and an eco-farm project that utilizes indigenous farming practices. The organization also promotes experiential learning for non-natives to learn about indigenous agriculture through various intensive courses and research projects in Peru.
The Association for Sustainable Rural Development was created in 2002 to strengthen rural farming communities throughout Asia. The organization is an “Asian alliance of national farmers organizations composed of small scale women and men family farmers, fishers, indigenous peoples, forest users, herders, and pastoralists.” The alliance also works to preserve local environments, protect rural family farmers, and to encourage gender equality among farmers.
The Asia Indigenous Peoples Pact works throughout Asia to encourage indigenous people’s rights, including sustainable land management. The Asia Indigenous Peoples Pact works publishes research, to advocate for indigenous rights, and creates awareness-raising programming to facilitate a network of regional indigenous communities. The organization has Special Consultative Status with the U.N. Economic Social Council and is accredited by the Global Environment Facility, Green Climate Fund and the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change.
The Christensen Fund works globally to support indigenous peoples, native rights, and biocultural initiatives through grants to organizations. They use grantmaking to protect the biocultural heritage of specifically targeted areas including the African Rift Valley, Central Asia, Melanesia, Northwest Mexico, U.S. Southwest, Northern Australia, and the San Francisco Bay Area. Ultimately, the Fund hopes to create indigenous resiliency through networking, collaborations, and self-determination.
The Cultural Conservancy works to protect indigenous food knowledge while promoting an increased understanding of indigenous land. The Conservancy has a native seed library, offers education on native agriculture through a partnership with the College of Marin, and provides opportunities to learn about native food through a teaching garden in California. The Conservancy connects American tribes to promote self-determination and indigenous agricultural practices.
Dream of Wild Health in Minneapolis, Minnesota is working “restore health and well-being in the Native community by recovering knowledge of and access to healthy Indigenous foods, medicines, and lifeways.” The organization maintains a community farm that participates regularly in a farmers market, has an indigenous food share CSA, and maintains a native seed collection. In addition to farming, Dream of Wild Health offers agricultural education programs for Native American youth from the Minneapolis, Minnesota area.
The European Coordination Via Campesina is an organization of 31 members from 21 European countries. The objective of the organization is to protect peasants, peasant farming, and farmworkers‘ rights. According to The European Coordination Via Campesina, this requires ensuring “food security, food safety, public health, employment in rural areas and to tackle the issues of the global food crisis and climate change” throughout Europe. This organization is a regional member of a larger international peasant movement called La Via Campesina.
The First Nations Development Institute works in the U.S. to help native communities through grant writing, advocacy, and research publications. The Institute has awarded US$32 million through 1,547 grants to native projects. For agriculture, the Institute awards grants specifically aimed at promoting healthy food to native children while helping to build strong sustainable food systems among the indigenous population.
Through academic publications, educational opportunities, and strategic planning assistance, the Indigenous Food and Agriculture Initiative hopes to help indigenous American communities in the U.S. build healthier food systems. The initiative is run through the University of Arkansas, a connection that it uses to teach agricultural education and build awareness of academic programs for prospective Native American students. The initiative also utilizes scholastic resources in law, policy, education and technical knowledge to publish academic research on topics ranging from Tribal nutrition and land management to indigenous agriculture.
12. The Muonde Trust
The Muonde Trust is based in Zimbabwe to provide training practices to encourage indigenous agriculture and innovation in Mazvihwa. Some of the key practice areas that the Trust focuses on include water harvesting, livestock management, and woodland management. The Trust is also interested in indigenous domestic architecture, disposing on plastic wastes, and creating an indigenous seed bank.
To promote women, girls, and gender diverse people among Canada’s First Nations, The Native Women’s Association of Canada promotes cultural and economic opportunities through policy research, conferences, and outreach. The organization was founded in 1974 and is a collective of tribal members within Canada’s First Nations. The organization works on national food research as well as environmental protection and sustainability among First Nation peoples.
Seeds of Native Health focuses on combatting obesity, diabetes, and other health problems in American native communities. According to the organization, many of these complications can be attributed to high poverty levels, a lack of federal spending on native nutrition, and a loss of traditional foods. Seeds of Native Health is hoping “raise awareness, spread knowledge, create capacity for change, and develop additional solutions,” relating to Native American nutrition.
Founded in Malawi in 2000, Soils, Food and Healthy Communities works with more than 6,000 Malawian farmers to promote food security and agricultural training, while exchanging ideas about native farming practices and nutrition. The organization emphasizes agroecology, which is a form of agriculture that promotes healthy interactions between plants, animals, and humans. According to Soils, Food and Healthy Communities, a focus on agroecology has created resiliency against catastrophic agricultural threats such as climate change.
The Traditional Native American Farmers Association’s goal is to “revitalize traditional agriculture for spiritual and human need” through education programs aimed at indigenous farmers in the U.S. The organization was founded at an intertribal meeting of 72 farming families from Arizona and New Mexico in 1992. Since its inception, the organization has created a declaration of seed sovereignty, hosted workshops and training sessions, and created a design course, all in the pursuit of strengthening indigenous agriculture in the Southwest.
The White Earth Land Recovery Project is working to restore land around the White Earth Indian Reservation in Minnesota. Encouraging traditional native land practices, indigenous agriculture, and community development, the White Earth Land Recovery Project promotes food sovereignty, an indigenous seed library, and indigenous energy justice issues. The Project produces an Indigenous Farm to School Manual to incorporate native foods into education on the reservation.