Throughout the Global South the unique cultures and livelihoods of indigenous groups are under serious threat. Food insecurity can lead to migration to cities, usually by men, to seek out paid work. Communities are in general severely impacted by the departure of its members. Often, food insecurity is also accompanied by indebtedness when farmers have been encouraged to buy modern seed varieties and agro-chemicals to boost production. As incomes are reduced as a result of fluctuating commodity prices and poor crop yields, farmers who have invested into inputs with the expectation of higher returns, or those who have taken out credit against future harvests, find themselves caught in a spiral of debt.
The impacts of these factors on rural communities is devastating, but indigenous peoples are among the most vulnerable of marginalised communities, and so their very existence is at stake. If indigenous villages and communities are depleted due to migration, a lack of food or a changing climate, they will start to disappear. In many regions, indigenous peoples are the guardians of specific environmental ecologies and seed diversity. These are being threatened by the aggressive and sometimes unlawful incursion of extractive industries and corporate land and resource grabbing. Also significant is the fact that indigenous groups are often keepers of unique languages and culture and centuries-old traditions. Many tribal languages do not even have a written form but preserve within them unique local knowledge. Potential losses across the community are therefore manifold.
SRI & Support to Indigenous Communities
The international community and national governments increasingly recognise the need to preserve these cultures and protect indigenous people. In addition to addressing their legal rights, NGOs in many areas are involved in training communities in farming methodologies that will help them to address the issues both of food insecurity and resistance to climate change. SRI and other climate-smart agricultural practices can play an important role in helping to protect indigenous cultures.
Empowerment and Rights
The impact of these successes of SRI on ’empowerment’ cannot be overstated. Addressing a community’s food security issues and divesting it of external inputs and credit increases local autonomy. An autonomous community has greater strength to defend their rights and, in tandem with NGOs is better equipped to take on any corporations that may seek to exploit their vulnerabilities.
SRI has an important part to play in helping to protect indigenous communities in many regions. SRI4Women has worked with indigenous communities in Odisha, India, through NGOs Nirman and CIRTD. We are working to highlight the ways in which SRI can benefit these communities through farmer-to-farmer knowledge sharing and awareness raising as well as highlighting how women play a significant role in SRI successes.