Indigenous Cultural systems for Biodiversity protection and food security;A case for Sacred Natural Sites and Indigenous seeds
Indigenous peoples and local communities are affected by climate change because
they directly rely on their immediate environment to meet basic livelihood needs.
Safeguarding and restoring ecosystem resilience, and the integrity of sacred natural
sites, is critical to ensuring their food and health sovereignty and overall well-
being.. It is important to revive, enhance and recognize the tried and tested African
traditions and practices. Traditional practices enable endangered ecosystems and
species in ancestral lands to regenerate and be protected, and they conserve the
seed diversity and related knowledge of food systems that are adapted to local
conditions – ever more critical as climate chaos and ecological tipping points
become the new norm. Recent cyclones in south-eastern Africa, provide stark
evidence that the more damaged the land, the greater the impact on human
communities and the ecosystems.
Current studies show that it is possible to revive and enhance African traditions to
address the climate, ecological and governance crises of today. It works especially
with knowledgeable elders. Those alive today are the last generation who grew up
in their ecologically-rooted traditions, with the knowledge and experience of
ancestral ways to enhance the resilience of the continent’s ecosystems and
communities, for future generations of all species.
As expressed by Ethiopia’s Dr. Melaku Worede, an award-winning plant geneticist
and mentor on enhancing climate change resilience, “traditional knowledge and
practices are the foundation from which to build ways to mitigate and adapt to the
current chaos”. The call for recognition of indigenous knowledge and community
natural heritage also responds to the present-day context of land grabbing and
corruption. It builds the capacity of communities to make informed decisions,
based on life-sustaining values, aware that without land they are relegated to the
margins of the collapsing global economy.
There is urgent need for strengthening community customary governance systems,
in which customary law and the rights of Nature are embedded. Customary
governance systems are the ancestral governance systems of indigenous and local
communities, passed down through successive generations. These systems are
firmly rooted in Nature and ancestral territories, and are exercised through
traditions, customs, beliefs, social, cultural, spiritual and livelihood practices,
stories and laws of origin, rituals, values, cosmology.
Through securing legal recognition for customary governance systems, local
communities take back control of their lives, they gain the confidence and capacity
to exercise their rights. This entails reviving their traditional ecological knowledge,
practices and customary laws and developing documentation for legal recognition.
One other major important aspect of this process is enabling women to reclaim
their role and status as custodians of seed, food and related traditional knowledge
in the community, in agriculture and in the governance systems.
Another key aspect is the protection of sacred natural sites, which are critical for
protecting ancestral lands and wild biodiversity as well as the resilience of food
systems – and they therefore have significant cultural and spiritual value for
In addition to creating conditions for the communities to (re)gain their customary
governance systems, the recognition of community governance systems creates
legal precedents. There are already various fora discussing and advocating for this
work. The African Chatter for Human and Peoples Rights (ACHPR) Resolution
.372 ,explicitly calls on governments to recognize customary governance systems
and protect sacred natural sites, and Uganda’s National Environment Act ,Sect.4
calls for recognition for the Rights of Nature.
By Tabaro Dennis;
The author is the Executive Director of African Institute for Culture and