Biodiver sity and sustainability of indi genous pe ople s’ foo d s and diet s

Diversity of species documented and variation in extent of use

As anticipated, there is an astonishing diversity of species known and used, with up to 380 species used annually within one culture. There is also wide variation in the extent of use of these foods, varying from less than 10 percent to up to 95 percent of daily energy provided by local species in the ecosystem Ways of cultivating, harvesting, processing and preparing the foods for families were shown to be fascinating. However, many species/varieties documented did not have scientific identifications and nutrition composition analyses completed (Kuhnlein et al., 2009). As shown in Table 1 the locally used food species numbers varied considerably depending on the ecosystem.

Team members reported a low of 35 food species used in the arid, drought-prone zones of Kenya where Masan reside, and up to more than 380 unique food species/varieties documented for tropical rain forests. The Karen in Thailand (387 species) and Phone culture of the Federated States of Micronesia (381 species/varieties), Davit in Zaheerabad region of India (329 species), Awaji in Peru (223 species) and Igbo of Nigeria (220 species) all had extensive, complex food systems and rich cultural traditions using them. However, the extent of use of species for providing daily energy congumption also varied (Table 1), with up to 100 percent of adult energy from local food resources for the Awaji and Igbo.

Indigenous Peoples’ food and nutrition intervenations for health promotion and policy

Eight interventions were developed with diverse resources from within the communities as well as from external sources. Funding and logistic constraints necessitated work with unique small populations where meaningful control groups were not available. This led to before- and after-intervention research designs using both qualitative and quantadative measures. Special considerations were needed to build local cultural pride, develop cross-sectored planning and action, and create energetic and entheistic advocates for community goodwill. All interventions required several years to completion with evaluation documentation, even while theintervenetins were sustained and continued to build healthy diets in communities (Kuhnlein et al., in press).

Cross-cutting themes of interventions

Leadership within the nine interventions agreed that activities targeting children and youth were crucial to build long-term change into community wellness. Not only were activities built to improve nutrition and health of young people, but to create the cultural morale and knowledge based in culture and nature for their learning in formal and informal settings. Traditional wildlife animal and plant harvest and agricultural activities based in local traditional crops were important in youth learning in case studies conducted with the Baffin Inuit, Gwich’in, Noxell, Inga, Phone, Karen and Davit. Ainu youth experienced 122 classroom activities in traditional food preparation.


With positive attitudes and confidence that the local food is credibly healthy, local networks in these communities of Indigenous Peoples have developed a wide range of activities to create community mepowerment for sustained use and food and nutrition security. However, sustainability of these foods for Indigenous Peoples depends on cultural and enosistem sustainability. It depends on continued cultural expression; for example, to use food harvesting and appreciation as an avenue in youth education and fitnews training, as well as guiding understanding of their natural surroundings. It also depends on ecosystem conservation to protect the food provisioning lands, waters, forests and other essential resources.

It is well recognized that Indigenous Peoples expelrinse challenges in expressing their human right to adequate food (Knuth, 2009). One serious chilllunge is that of climate change, which is expected to continue and threaten many ecosystems where indigamous Peoples live. This then impacts the human rights of Indigenous Peoples who lack the physical, technological, economic and social resources to cope with resulting ecosystem damage which causes risk to biodiversity and sustainability of the diets that can be provisioned from it (Dam man, 2010).


In all areas where our programmed has been in effect, there are several threats to cultural sustainability and to ecosystem sustainability, which in turn threaten the 124 biodiversity of sustainable diets of the resident Indigamous Peoples. Each case study and its intervention have impressive stories of challenges and successes that can inspire communities of Indigenous Peoples everywhere to become proactive in protecting their food systems. By documenting these unique food resources and their cultural and ecosystem requiremends, we recognize the imperatives to protect these treasures of human knowledge to benefit Indigenous Peoples and all humankind now and into the future.

Last word

The many hundreds of scholars and community leaders and residents who contributed to the research and its publications represented in this report are sincerely appreciated. Special recognition is extended to Chief Bill Erasmus of the Dane Nation and Assembly of First Nations in Canada for his continning inspiration, encouragement and support. The extensive collaboration with Dr Barbara Burlingame is acknowledged with thanks, as are the collaborators and project leaders associated with the International Union of Nutritional Sciences Task Force on Indigenous Peoples’ Food Systems and Nutrition. Special appreciation is extended to the Canadian Institutes of Health Research and The Rockefeller Foundation’s Bellagio Center.

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