Message from the Director General

International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples 2013

August 9, 2013

As ICIMOD joins the world community to celebrate the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples we remain conscious of and humbled by the rich diversity, cultural heritage, traditional knowledge, and innovation in art, science, and environment practices of indigenous peoples. The Hindu Kush Himalayan mountain region stands testimony to the critical and special role that indigenous peoples play in finding solutions to pressing issues of climate change, globalization, and unsustainable exploitation of natural resources. 

Generation after generation, indigenous peoples have nurtured important relationships with their environments which not only sustain their livelihoods, but also the region’s rangelands, watersheds, agricultural lands, forests, and biodiversity. Such relationships are not only anchored on their invaluable knowledge, science, and deep meanings attached to land, but are also inseparable from their distinct cultures, spiritual practices, and social relations which continue to offer hope and direction to the rest of the world. 

This year’s theme, Indigenous peoples building alliances: Honouring treaties, agreements and other constructive arrangements, gives a new dimension to the upliftment of human conditions through meaningful alliances among our sovereign peoples inheriting and living together in this planet. In particular, I would like to highlight the importance of building alliances in the HKH region. As a regional knowledge management Centre, one of ICIMOD’s core missions is to bring together a rich diversity of women and men – scientists, researchers, development practitioners, policymakers, indigenous peoples – to discuss, debate, collaborate, and share knowledge of both regional and global relevance. Building alliances through regional cooperation lays an important foundation for enabling sustainable, resilient, and equitable mountain development that will ultimately improve the livelihoods and wellbeing of mountain people, and eventually those in the plains and beyond.  

ICIMOD is helping build transboundary protected areas across the entire HKH region, where indigenous analysis of biocultural diversity is a crucial component of long-term monitoring and management. The rangelands of the HKH encompass large tracts of the HKH and are home to an approximate 180 million indigenous and pastoral women and men. The high altitude slopes, valleys, and plateaus provide the critical natural resources for their survival, as well as form critically important sources of income, food, livestock, medicinal plants, water, fuel wood, etc. 

In these harsh and fragile regions, pastoral women and men have sustained their livelihoods through creative mobility, innovative land use practices, and intimate knowledge of their environments. They are the front-line adapters of climate change, as well as the keepers of knowledge who have monitored different drivers of change over time. However, they are often at the margins of mainstream development efforts, where sedentary agriculture and privatization of land take precedence.  

Photo: Ritu Verma, ICIMOD

In arid and semi-arid areas, pastoralism has an important logic and science, based on indigenous knowledge developed, tested, and applied over time. ICIMOD is proud to support research that highlights such valuable knowledge. For example, a forthcoming publication, highlights the gender dimensions of pastoralism, including the central role of gendered indigenous knowledge. In the face of increasing rural-urban drift where men out-migrate in search of cash income, it is often women who manage the everyday complexities of sustaining livelihoods, livestock, and environments. Much of the sustainability of the rangelands depends on their indigenous knowledge, their capacities to adapt to change, and their agency in negotiating changes. And they often play these roles under hostile circumstances that include skewed divisions of labour, limited access to resources and governance institutions, and little decision-making power and ownership rights.

Indigenous communities are those that have lived in the HKH landscapes the longest. Their capacity to respond to change — like that of a skilled dance troupe — is demonstrated not by their ability to explain a set of rules, but rather through their apparently effortless, yet appropriate and efficient actions. In response to climate change or loss of access to productive lands, indigenous communities link subtle indicators such as plant flowering time and shifts in altitude to responses such as replanting a range of less-used landraces, preserved against the pressures of monoculture programmes, that withstand drought, poorer soils or unseasonal rainfall. This adaptive capacity is now being recognized within such projects as the GLORIA programme — of which ICIMOD is a member — that has incorporated protocols for working with indigenous informants to document alpine vegetation change as a result of global warming.

Therefore, as a knowledge management centre working in eight diverse countries of the HKH, ICIMOD acknowledges the crucial but often undervalued importance of indigenous women and men : their knowledge, rich cultural heritage, and deep spiritual connections to the land. These rich resources will provide the keys to unlocking the most difficult challenges for sustainable environments. We are proud to have supported such efforts, and will continue to do so.

David Molden