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Making forest wonders work for nutrition, biodiversity and livelihoods

Photo: Icaro Cooke Vieira (CIFOR) / Flickr.

“The forest is not a resource for us. It is life itself,” – Evaristo Nugkuag Ikanan, an indigenous leader and ecologist.

Our Expert Group “Wild Foods, Biodiversity and Livelihood” with Non-Timber Forest Products Exchange Programme (NTFP-EP Asia) will work to consolidate traditional ecological knowledge about wild foods in Asia and bridge it with the relevant policy arenas to ensure wise, inclusive and impactful decision making in the areas of food security, poverty reduction and sustainable forest management.

Forests play a key role in climate regulation, and indigenous and forest communities have been recognized as the best forest guardians, achieving outcomes that are at least equivalent to those of government-funded protected areas. However, forests are so much more than a massive air-conditioner and a carbon storage facility.

Apart from providing water, soil protection and a place to live for animals, forests are also where we discovered foods and medicines. Many of the prescription drugs used in our healthcare, including antibiotics and cancer medications, are derived from nature. Bananas, cassava, coffee, cacao, vanilla, cashews and avocadoes all originate from the forest too.

These foods are well known and widely loved, but there are many more forest treasures most of us have never even heard of. Take, for instance, the pyap leaves from Cambodia or the dang sum herb from Vietnam or the pako fern from the Philippines, which are cherished and masterfully utilized by the traditional forest dwellers and indigenous peoples. They have been relying on wild foods for millennia, integrating their food practices with sustainable forest management.

For the forest-based communities, wild foods provide nutrition and resilience in times of food insecurity and carry a lot of cultural value. What is more, these food practices and traditions hold many sustainability lessons that could be employed to repair our food systems and step forward the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Finding ways to add value and ensure sustainable use of wild foods could not only reduce poverty and vulnerability of indigenous and traditional communities, but also support the development, biodiversity and climate goals through sustainable land use and forest management.

This area has only recently started to receive attention and recognition and, because it spans forestry, agriculture, education, culture and many other fields, it is usually dispersed between different institutions and actors. Our new Expert Group aims to establish a collaborative platform for traditional ecological knowledge in Asia. This project will bring together practitioners, networks and organizations working in the area, consolidating knowledge exchange, collaboration and, ultimately, providing traditional ecological knowledge with a stronger voice and leverage.

Through field learning, dialogue and networking, the Expert Group will explore the biodiversity of wild foods in Asia, both flora and fauna, including restoration and rehabilitation of these resources. The group will look into and share the examples of the ecological knowledge of various indigenous and forest-based communities in Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Vietnam.

This project will facilitate and convene dialogues and knowledge-sharing activities at the regional level, engaging national and regional representatives from the forest and indigenous communities, government, science, civil society, and development agencies, creating an enabling environment for forest communities and indigenous peoples in Asia, going beyond conservation and expanding the understanding of the value of forests, especially wild foods, and traditional ecological knowledge and systems.

At present, the Expert Group is working on the development of country situation papers for India, Indonesia, Cambodia and Vietnam. These papers are about practices and policies on food security and resource management. The knowledge from the papers will be communicated through policy briefs too. An online information campaign on wild foods will be launched this June and run until May 2021. Featuring various multimedia, this campaign will raise awareness on wild foods and traditional food systems.

Finally, the Expert Group will launch a series of public webinars this year about Wild foods, traditional systems and tenure (Julym 2020), Wild foods and biodiversity (Augustm 2020), and wild foods and livelihoods (September 2020). The webinar series will lead to a regional dialogue on the subject. All the events will be advertised through SIANI media channels. 

Members of the Expert Group

Teddy Brawner Baguilat, Jr. is the President of the ICCA Consortium. He has been an honorary member of the ICCA Consortium for several years before taking up the post as its President. He belongs to the Tuwali tribe of Ifugao and the Gaddang tribe of Nueva Vizcaya provinces in Northern Philippines. He has been Mayor of Kiangan (1995-2000) and Governor of Ifugao (2001-2004; 2007-2010). From 2010-2019, he was Congressman for the lone district of Ifugao, championing the cause of all indigenous peoples in the Philippines. He chaired the Philippine Congress’ Committee on National Cultural Communities from 2010-2013 and was Vice Chairperson of the Committee on Indigenous Peoples from 2013-2016. He has proposed laws protecting the rights of indigenous peoples and promoting their culture, as well as laws on protection of the environment and bills against discrimination of marginalized sectors. He has spoken in various international conferences on ICCAs, conservation and heritage sites, human rights and indigenous cultures, emphasizing indigenous practices as key to overcoming current environmental and sustainability challenges worldwide.

Doris Capistrano is Senior Advisor of the SDC-supported ASEAN-Swiss Partnership on Social Forestry and Climate Change (ASFCC) and Senior Fellow of the Southeast Asia Regional Center for Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture (SEARCA). She was Director of Forests and Governance of the Centre for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) and Visiting Professor in Forest and Conservation Policy of Wageningen University. She served as Ford Foundation’s Deputy Representative for India, Nepal, and Sri Lanka and Program Officer for Rural Poverty, Resources and Environment in Bangladesh. She previously taught Economics at the University of the Philippines at Los Banos.

Miks Guia-Padilla is the Executive Director of AnthroWatch and the Board Chairperson of NTFP-EP Asia. She has been working alongside indigenous peoples and local communities on policy advocacy issues related to tenure, gender, health and environmental rights. She is also active in the Zero Extreme Poverty 2030 movement. Her background is in anthropology and gender studies.

Mathew John is the Managing Director of Last Forest Enterprises, a social enterprise incubated by Keystone Foundation, a civil society organization of which he is also a co-founder Director. Passionate about supporting small businesses, Last Forest is a market platform for many such organizations from around the country. Based in Kotagiri, Nilgiris, Last Forest runs a chain of 3 stores and a Slow Food restaurant. It is also certified as fair trade by the World Fair Trade Organization. As a member of Fair Trade Forum – India, oversaw the umbrella branding exercise of retail stores within the country.

Yun Mane is an indigenous Bunong from Mondulkiri in the North East of Cambodia. A graduate of the Royal University of Law and Economics, she is the chair of the board of the Cambodia Indigenous Youth Association and a board member of the Organization to Promote Kui Culture. Mane spent three and a half years working with the United Nations Development Program Regional Indigenous People Program and two years as a Program Officer with the International Labour Organization Support to Indigenous Peoples Project. Mane spent a few months in 2004 and 2007 in the United States raising funds to support indigenous people in Cambodia, their rights to land and education and efforts to promote and preserve indigenous culture in Cambodia.

Nonette Royo is a lawyer, a land rights rights specialist, practitioner in assisting indigenous peoples and local community organizations gain better tenure and in negotiating natural resources management rights. She is currently the Executive Director of The Tenure Facility in Stockholm. Her work in Indonesia, Philippines and other parts of the SEAsia and Melanesia spans 25 years supporting community collective land rights mapping and titling, and negotiating other types of rights over land, resources, territories. Nonette helped design, implement innovative grants mechanisms and other technical support to IPLC in forests, climate change, landuse, biodiversity programs including setting up of conflict resolution and mediation mechanisms from emerging body of evidence of effective guardianship of territory, in cases where rights and environmental protection are potentially compromised.

Maria Rydlund is a Senior Policy Adviser Tropical Forest at SSNC. She is an ecologist and has been working with tropical forest and IPLCs since more than 20 years back. Policy and lobby work related to the underlying causes of deforestation and the key role of IPLC are among her interests.

Prasert Trakansuphakon belongs to the Karen people in Thailand. He has been a leader and practitioner of social development among indigenous peoples in Thailand and SEA. His expertise comprises indigenous knowledge, natural resource management, in particular rotational farming, indigenous education of indigenous peoples. He holds a PhD in Sociology. He is presently Chairperson of Pgakenyaw (Karen) Association for Sustainable Development (PASD), Thailand.

Luu Hong Truong currently works at the Southern Institute of Ecology, Vietnam Academy of Science and Technology as its Director. Hong Truong does research in Botany, Evolutionary Biology, Genetics and Ecology. Their current project is ‘Databasing biodiversity in southern Vietnam.

Grace Wong is a natural resource economist with an interest on understanding complexities of social, economic and ecological trade-offs in the intersection of development, socio-political processes and climate change. She has worked extensively throughout Southeast Asia and Latin America. Her current research is on ecosystem services and human wellbeing in dynamic forest frontiers, with a particular interest on power relations and equity in the distribution of benefits and risks from natural resource use and governance.

Members of the Steering Committee

Femy Pinto is the Executive Director of the Non-Timber Forest Products-Exchange Programme Asia (NTFP-EP Asia). Femy has a social sciences background and a masters in international policy and international development, with 30 years of experience as a practitioner, manager and advocate of natural resources management and the development of non-timber forest products. She is engaged in policy advocacy work around indigenous peoples rights and access to natural resources, as well as civil society networking and institution building.

Jeremy Ironside works for the McKnight Foundation overseeing grantmaking to organizations which support indigenous/ethnic minority communities to protect their land and natural resource rights and managements systems in the face of rampant economic development in the region. His background is in sustainable agriculture and his interests include learning from traditional systems which combine the farm and the forest. He is also a board member of NTFP-EP.

Denise Matias is a research scientist in the research unit Biodiversity and People at ISOE Frankfurt. She received her Doctor in Agricultural Sciences degree at the University of Bonn for her research on forest honey gathering from wild giant honey bees (Apis dorsata) by indigenous Tagbanuas and continues this research with indigenous Higaonon. She is also working with nomadic herders in the Mongolian Steppe Ecosystem.

Madhu Ramnath is the Country Coordinator for NTFP-EP India. He has been engaged in the subject of wild forest foods in Asia and is also currently learning about traditional cultivated food plants. Other related areas of interest include nutrition, health, indigenous land tenure, nurseries and reforestation. He has authored several books, including the latest book co-authored with Ramon Razal, “Wild Tastes of Asia: Coming Home to the Forest for Food”.

Ramon Razal is a professor and former Dean of the UPLB College of Forestry and Natural Resources where he teaches Non-Timber Forest Products and other forest products utilization courses and member of the NTFP-EP Board of Trustees. He is author/co-author of various publications such as the “Non-Wood Forest Products of the Philippines” and “Wild Tastes of Asia: Coming Home to the Forest for Food.”” He has done research and published articles on various NTFPs such as bamboo, resins and other chemical products from forest plants, with the view of improving livelihood opportunities for forest-based communities and enhancing the policy environment for accessing and marketing non-timber forest products.

Diana San Jose is the Program Officer of Non-Timber Forest Products-Exchange Programme Asia (NTFP-EP Asia) where she currently handles the program on community-based conservation and indigenous food and health. She is the communications focal point for the Expert Group.

Dialogue partners

Andrew Aeria is the Board Chairperson of NTFP-EP Malaysia and its interim Executive Director.

Sim Buntheoun is the Country Programme Manager of NTFP-EP Cambodia.

Robin Bustamante is the Communications and Knowledge Management Officer of NTFP-EP Asia.

Ruth Canlas is the Executive Director of NTFP-EP Philippines. She has more than 20 years of social development work experience with various sectors – students, workers, farmers and indigenous peoples. Her expertise is in the areas of program management, organizational development, financial management and enterprise development including business planning. She earned her Management Engineering degree from the Ateneo de Manila and her MBA degree from the University of the Philippines Diliman. She is the Coordinator of the Philippine program of NTFP-EP since 2008. Under her leadership, NTFP EP in the Philippines has grown organizationally and expanded its work to more communities.

Trinh Thi My Dung is the Country Facilitator for NTFP-EP Vietnam. She facilitates the NTFP program with participation of 100 indigenous communities in which wild food plays an important role in their lives.

Dominic Langat is the community development coordinator of NTFP-EP Malaysia. He has years of solid experience working with the Penan communities in Sarawak, Malaysia in community organizing, policy advocacy, and project implementation of conservation, rainforestation, research and restoration and rehabilitation of non-timber forest products.

Jusupta Tarigan is the Executive Director of NTFP-EP Indonesia. He is a forestry and livelihood specialist with more than 18 years of professional experience in Indonesia. His work, including both research and development, has focused on identifying and developing integrated development approaches that enable local stakeholders to sustainably manage local resources to meet both rural communities’ livelihood objectives and government environmental goals. Building viable partnerships of farmers, non-government organizations (NGOs), government agencies and private sector enterprises has been a key component of this successful work. I also possess good administration, social mobilization, monitoring and evaluation, trainers and other management skills that can be effectively utilized to improve operations and contribute to organizational effectiveness.