Improving Nutrition - Key Actions

Indigenous Peoples, and especially Indigenous women and children, are disproportionately affected by malnutrition and diet-related health problems (1). The underlying causes include the marginalization of Indigenous Peoples, resulting in higher levels of poverty and landlessness, and a lack of adequate health care (2). In addition to power and structural inequalities, climate change crisis, expansion of cash cropping, and environmental degradation are undermining the resource base of IPFS. The step by step process of design, implementation, and supervision of IFAD nutrition-sensitive projects is well described in How to do note: Mainstreaming nutrition into COSOPs and investment projects. This digital toolbox aims to highlight food biodiversity approaches, assessments, and other important aspects to consider when designing and implementing projects in the IPFS context. 

The ongoing loss of biodiversity is changing Indigenous Peoples' diets. Decreasing diversity of crops, animals, and wild foods, in combination with increasing preference and availability of processed and ultra-processed foods, are resulting in malnutrition in all its forms (undernutrition, micronutrient deficiency, overweight and obesity, and diet-related non-communicable diseases). In addition, loss of traditional knowledge combined with discriminatory lack of access to education for Indigenous children and youths negatively impacts their nutrition, health, and quality of life. There is a need to combat traditional knowledge loss and increase access to intercultural education which will combine traditional and contemporary knowledge systems. Some of the most difficult human rights challenges for Indigenous Peoples stem from pressures on their lands, territories, and resources as a result of activities associated with the extraction of resources and the expansion of cash crops. Failure to recognize Indigenous Peoples' rights, including land rights and self-determination rights, limits the access to and use of traditional lands and food systems, which creates significant threats to Indigenous Peoples’ food security and nutrition. 

Enhancing food biodiversity provides opportunities to improve nutrition and health of Indigenous communities (3, 4, 5, 6) by strengthening IPFS including all its elements: knowledge, practices, and cultural elements (see Figure 1 for key actions). While nutrition projects may combine different types of activities (e.g., educational activities), it is important that projects focus on restoring biodiversity in IPFS. An important strategy to strengthen IPFS will be to scale out agroecology, nature-based solutions, and regenerative agricultural practices. Agroecology and regenerative agriculture are recognized as ways to sustainably increase food production and improve food security and nutrition outcomes in Indigenous and other local food systems (7, 8).

 Figure 1. Key actions to strengthen Indigenous Peoples' food systems 


• Indigenous Peoples' rights to lands and territories
• Indigenous Peoples' sacred relationship with nature that preserves the local environment
• Indigenous Peoples' values of caring, sharing, and reciprocity


• revival and increased consumption of a diversity of nutritious crops, crop varieties, and wild foods, especially crops and animals that are resilient to climate change
• production of diverse nutritious local foods using best traditional practices, agroecology, and regenerative agriculture


• territorial management and collective governance, and how they generate food and preserve biodiversity
• conservation practices that are embedded in social, cultural, and spiritual systems


• innovation or co-production of knowledge to improve sustainability of food production, gathering, and processing methods 


• community-based resource management techniques that restore forest, wetlands, mangroves, coral reefs and other wildlife habitats, wild edibles, and medicinal plants


• women, youth, and entire communities to raise awareness of and confidence in the nutritional and cultural value of local food biodiversity


  • 1 Lemke S, Delormier T (2017) Indigenous Peoples' food systems, nutrition, and gender: Conceptual and methodological considerations. Maternal Child Nutrition 13 (S3): e12499.
  • 2 Lemke S, Bellows AC (2016) Sustainable Food Systems, Gender, and Participation: Foregrounding Women in the Context of the Right to Adequate Food and Nutrition. In: Bellows AC, et al. (Eds.). Gender, Nutrition, and the Human Right to Adequate Food. Routledge, New York, pp. 254-340.
  • 3 Kuhnlein HV, Erasmus B, Spigelski D, Burlingame B (2013) Indigenous Peoples’ Food Systems and Wellbeing: Interventions and Policies for Healthy Communities. Centre for Indigenous Peoples' Nutrition and Environment, McGill University and FAO, Rome.
  • 4 Kuhnlein HV (2015) Food system sustainability for health and well-being of Indigenous Peoples. Public Health Nutrition 18 (13): 2415-2424.
  • 5 Kuhnlein HV, Erasmus B, Spigelski D (2009) Indigenous peoples' food systems: the many dimensions of culture, diversity and environment for nutrition and health. Centre for Indigenous Peoples' Nutrition and Environment, McGill University, and FAO, Rome.
  • 6 Kuhnlein H, et al. (2006) Indigenous peoples' food systems for health: finding interventions that work. Public Health Nutrition 9 (8): 1013-1019.
  • 7 FAO (2021) The White/Wiphala Paper on Indigenous Peoples' food systems. FAO, Rome.
  • 8 Kerr RB, et al. (2021) Can agroecology improve food security and nutrition? A review. Global Food Security 29: 100540.

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