Indigenous Wisdom and Agrobiodiversity are Critical to Climate Adaptation


In early May 2017, the Global Alliance for the Future of Food hosted its 2nd International Dialogue with over 250 food systems leaders from the local to the global, to gain deeper insights into the connections between climate change and food systems, to craft visions of the food systems we need today and tomorrow, and to chart potential pathways to get there.

Global Alliance member Barilla Center for Food and Nutrition (BCFN) sponsored six of their youth alumni to attend the gathering. Alumnus Francesca Recanati sat down with Kyra Busch, Program Officer at The Christensen Fund, to ask pressing questions about where food and agriculture systems can point to positive solutions to climate change.

Through the International Dialogue and all of its work, the Global Alliance aims to bring together diverse stakeholders from different sectors, geographies, and ideologies to facilitate genuine global dialogue on critical issues related to transitions to sustainable food systems. To that end, we are pleased to make these interviews available to contribute to thinking, discussion, and debate about food systems reform.

Q: Where does your work intersect with sustainable food systems and climate change? Why is it important to get food systems on the climate change agenda?

Kyra Busch (KB): I am a Program Officer at Christensen Fund and I am managing programs on Agrobiodiversity and Food Sovereignty and Resilient Biocultural Landscapes. The concept of agrobiodiversity underlines the ecosystem dimension of food production, where we understand the whole range of biodiversity – pollinators to mycorrhizas – as part of flourishing food systems and necessary components, such as water and healthy soils, that require living landscapes that extend beyond each single farm or a single crop.

Food sovereignty includes the rights, control, and power that are part of our food systems. It asserts the rights of peoples to nutritious diets, to access and manage the lands, waters, and territories to produce this food, and to access markets.

Finally, resilient biocultural landscapes highlight that food production does not happen on a solitary farm, but it is a fundamental component of our livelihood and landscape and incorporates elements like watersheds and sacred spaces. The concept of resilience is especially important in the context of climate change.

Globally, the lands and territories of Indigenous Peoples hold 80% of the world’s biodiversity and much of the remaining genetic diversity, like wild crop relatives.

Q: Where do you think the greatest opportunities are for transitioning to more sustainable food systems in a climate changing world?

KB: Indigenous Peoples and local communities are often the most impacted by the effects of climate change which, in most cases, they are not causing. Globally, the lands and territories of Indigenous Peoples hold 80% of the world’s biodiversity and much of the remaining genetic diversity, like wild crop relatives. Thus, communities are also disproportionately affected by changes to these genetic resources. One part of my work at the Christensen Fund is to advocate for the rights of communities to land, territories, and resources, for self-governance and self-determination, including support for initiatives such as the Indigenous Peoples Climate Change Assessment.

In our work, we look to build resilience both in the short- and long-term. In the long-term, the aim is to build resilience and strategies to withstand the kind of shocks we are experiencing more and more frequently – and will be even more frequent in future climate scenarios. In the short-term, the focus is on the maintenance of resilient biocultural systems and livelihoods that are already in place.

One real example of existing resilient systems are islands. I am collaborating with the community in the Pacific island of Vanuatu. In this small country of less than 300,000 people, concepts like diversity and systems approach are obvious and solidly present in daily life and livelihoods (for example, there are over 150 languages spoken). The common narrative is that climate change is going to wipe everything out and that the people of Vanuatu will become increasingly vulnerable to disasters and hunger. There is a truth in this narrative; islands are already experiencing sea level rise and other indicators of climate change. Nevertheless, there is an innate resilience with the knowledge and wisdom that has been built across generations, such as how to build homes that will sink down rather than blow away in a storm, or how to store food crops to withstand gale force winds and rains. This type of knowledge is a tool – a tool that can be effective for withstanding floods, tsunami, earthquakes, and any range of catastrophic events.

Q: What is the most important thing the younger generation needs to understand about how food systems and climate change are interconnected, and what can they do as individuals to support a shift in how we think about food systems?

KB: The role of youth is critical because we are standing on the shoulders of giants. Young generations have to look at the inherited wisdom, but also to innovation and cultural shifts, and need to always be ready to adapt as the Indigenous Peoples do in their lands. There is no one single, perfect solution, but there is a lot of urgency in this climate changing world and there are many things that have to happen now.

Q: What are good practice examples, where you or others are involved in leveraging or transitioning to more sustainable, secure and equitable food systems?

KB: Island communities offer best practices of resilience to climate change. In particular, the ability to adapt is the key strength of Indigenous Peoples. They know and respect their territories, they observe and analyze what happens in the surrounding world, and continuously integrate new information in order to continue to live on their land and conserve it for new generations. This is the kind of wisdom we all need to deal with climate change, the type of knowledge that young generations should understand and absorb based on iterative learning and observation.

Kyra Busch is the Program Officer for Agrobiodiversity & Food Sovereignty and Resilient Biocultural Landscapes, Christensen Fund. She works with the Global Program and partners in all six regions to support Indigenous innovation in food, land and livelihood processes. Prior to joining the Christensen Fund, Kyra fostered local food sovereignty for over a decade.

The vision of the BCFN Alumni group is to make the best use of the potential of young people involved with the issues of agri-food sustainability around the world. The aim is to create a community of active and committed alumni that contribute to the development of a more sustainable food system, through projects and other activities.

More interviews with participants from the Global Alliance’s 2nd International Dialogue are available here.