In the spotlight

In the spotlight 1

The importance of forests, wild plants and the commons to people’s and communities’ food sovereignty

Indigenous peoples have lived in harmony with Mother Earth for thousands of years — depending on her for our food, shelter and medicines — making us part of her and not her master. The earth is populated by trees of every type which give life and strength. The earth is root and source of our culture; it is our guardian mother who looks after all which exists. For this reason caring for woodlands, forests and wild plants through our traditional knowledge and as common goods are of huge importance to our peoples and communities.

Forests are pharmacies

The forest provides us with herbs and plants which cure our sicknesses — plants which since time immemorial have occupied an exceptional place in the lives of our peoples — we should remember that more than 25% of modern medicines come from plants from the the tropical forests.

Forests are habitats for plants and animals

Jungles and tropical forests have taken more than 60 and 100 million years to evolve and are believed to be the most complex and ancient ecosystems on earth, being home to more than 30 million species of plants and animals. This represents half of the fauna of the planet earth and at least two thirds of her vegetative species — on top of this they provide all that is required to maintain our world. The forests are vital ecosystems for life, considering their protective, regulating and productive functions for Food Sovereignty.

Forests regulate our climate

Jungles and tropical forests absorb water like a huge sponge. Trees in tropical forests extract water from the ground and free it into the atmosphere in the form of clouds and mist. It is well known that trees absorb carbon dioxide which we exhale, and provide the oxygen we need to breath. Deforestation is regarded as the second of the principle causes of climate change. Climate change is already having negative impacts on our lives and lands — for example through the loss of biodiversity or water shortages — provoking a forced displacement of our peoples towards other regions of our country and resulting loss of our rights.

As Indigenous Peoples and local communities we understand that nobody loves what they cannot learn to understand — so to protect our environmental space human beings must love it and to love it they must know it and understand it. We, our communities have all the liberty to use what mother earth has gifted to us, but never using more than what is necessary and never damaging her. In our oceans and seas we fish what is necessary, in our forests we cut just what is needed — and thus we know the value of our lands, territories and natural resources — our commons — because without them we are nobody and there is no Food Sovereignty for the world.

Mother Earth contains our memories and receives our ancestors – as such she requires that we honour and return with tenderness and respect the gifts she has offered us. For this reason it is important to transfer to our own future generations our Traditional Knowledge in caring for Mother Earth so our peoples can continue to benefit from her generosity.

Taina Hedman, International Indian Treaty Council

In the spotlight 2

Māori food sovereignty

The role that the seas, fish, marine life and coasts play for Māori [Māori consists of many different tribal groups with distinct identities] of Aotearoa/New Zealand is inter-related and essential to our culture, economy and identity, which cannot be separated. Like many Indigenous Peoples across the world Māori feel strong historical and contemporary connections to all our surroundings. Our histories have been handed down by our ancestors and maintained through an oral tradition of storytelling. Tangaroa is our god of the ocean who we acknowledge in our prayers before we undertake anything related to the seas. The gifts of the ocean provides us with many different things — fish provide sustenance, nutrition and an economic asset; shells provide materials for tools, musical instruments and adornment; marine life such as whales, stingray and dolphins have historically provided pathways for our ocean travellers and are our ocean guardians. Like other Indigenous Peoples we traded amongst ourselves and other visitors and absolute food sovereignty was ours to maintain.

Impacts on Māori food sovereignty

Since 1840 Māori food sovereignty was impacted through various laws and practices that came with British colonisation. Although the Foreshore and Seabed Act 2004 no longer exists it impacted Māori food sovereignty by changing our rights to cultural practices such as shellfish harvesting. Māori had to prove we continually used a part of the foreshore or seabed since 1840. One challenge for us was that shellfish harvesting would only be for specific occasions like formal gatherings or bereavement and not a day to day thing. Māori sustainable practices also meant that shellfish were only taken at certain times of the year to allow for new stocks to grow. Shellfish harvesting would not be continuous and very hard to meet the criteria under the Foreshore and Seabed Act. Since 2011 this law has been taken over by the Marine and Coastal Area Act (Takutai Moana) 2011. This law is supposed to balance the customary interests of Māori with the interests of all New Zealand citizens. Under this law Māori must apply to have our customary interests recognised and have until 2017 to lodge an application. The challenge will be how everyone’s interests are balanced.

Local Māori markets: White baiting

Fisheries are an important part of the current Māori economy and form an integral part of how we connect to our environment. Currently, we are in white bait season and traditionally we know that when certain trees are in bloom the white bait are plentiful. As seasonal harvest, white bait is greatly sought after by the greater and provides a welcome resource to feed our families and boost local short term cash flow. However, growing tensions have arisen where some Māori take the view that this resource should only be used for the sustenance of our families, whereas others are taking more and more to sell in local markets. An impact here is that the white bait resources are quickly depleted. Māori food sovereignty therefore has a significant connection to the local Māori economy and when looked at from a national scale has potential to bring back part of the Māori food sovereignty we once enjoyed many years ago – but with it comes compromises that will need to be resolved if a seasonal resource like white bait is to be sustainably managed into the future.

Future Māori food sovereignty

Current Māori food sovereignty has developed from localised individuals or groups, who have maintained and developed traditional approaches to food sovereignty, through to large Māori owned companies. In either example there is absolute connectedness of Māori traditions and values like kaitiakitanga (stewardship) and mauri (life force), which provides guidance and regulation to help sustain the natural resources. We are aware that we cannot rely solely on seasonal resources and have looked towards ways of harnessing larger scales of food production. We are becoming more innovative and look for opportunities to increase sustainable development. One opportunity is the Crown-Māori Economic Growth Partnership ‘He Kai Kei Aku Ringa’ (food at the end of my hands) between government and Māori businesses that can be used as a vehicle to strengthen Māori sustainable development in natural resources. This collaboration will involve all levels of society to inform the process and learn how to achieve our goals, from grass roots to national governments and international fora. One useful international forum could be the World Committee on Food Security, which could be connected to local markets through the Civil Society Mechanism.

Anaru Fraser, International Indian Treaty Council