Giving Indigenous Peoples the recognition they deserve: Why updates to IFAD's policy matter


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Giving Indigenous Peoples the recognition they deserve: Why updates to IFAD's policy matter

Estimated reading time: 4 minutes

As our climate rapidly changes, we must also change how we manage and protect our ecosystems and natural resources. Indigenous Peoples have sustainably done this for generations.

That's why recent updates to the IFAD Policy on Engagement with Indigenous Peoples enshrine the value of their traditional knowledge and support the crucial role they play in this changing world.

To explain why these updates matter, we spoke with Yun Mane—an indigenous lawyer and activist from Mondulkiri in north-eastern Cambodia and Executive Director of Cambodia Indigenous Peoples Organization, Dr Wolde Tadesse—an elder in the indigenous community of dere Chencha in southern Ethiopia and a visiting scholar at Oxford University, and Ilaria Firmian—IFAD’s Senior Technical Specialist on Indigenous Peoples and Tribal Issues.

Indigenous Peoples as ‘horizontal’ partners

The updated policy recognizes Indigenous Peoples as equal partners in co-creating strategies, as stewards of natural resources and biodiversity, and as bearers of rich knowledge systems.

A Gamo woman in Chencha, southern Ethiopia. © IFAD/Petterik Wiggers


Wolde Tadesse: For co-creation to work, you must be equal partners. If one side maintains the position of a donor while the other looks upwards hoping for a drop to fall in their mouth, it is unequal. So, for me, co-creation should be about actually doing things together and reaping the benefits together.

Ilaria Firmian: For IFAD, “horizontal partners” means leaving behind the “beneficiary” type of relationship. Indigenous Peoples are stewards of nature and must be at the forefront of decision-making. We are building relationships of mutual recognition and co-creation, designing projects in a participatory way based on the priorities and interests of communities.

Accessing funding and climate finance

The updated policy recognizes that global aid is evolving, with funding coming from a growing range of sources. It commits to ensuring that Indigenous Peoples have access to these resources.

A member of the The Jakun ethnic group in West Malaysia. © IFAD/Francesco Cabras


Yun Mane: I will share the perspective from Asia. Indigenous Peoples play a very critical role in sustainable development, climate change mitigation and protecting biodiversity. In a way, our place as Indigenous Peoples is to guide climate commitments.

Finance, especially climate finance, should be focused on Indigenous Peoples, so they can access it, organize it and benefit from it. But most Indigenous Peoples’ organizations and communities have very limited access to funding. Often, calls for funding are not simple or available in our languages, and the terminologies and requirements are very complex.

It is important to make it easier for indigenous organizations and communities to access funds, to make processes more inclusive and ensure no one is left behind.

Ilaria Firmian: The Indigenous Peoples Assistance Facility is our flagship instrument for channelling funds directly to Indigenous Peoples, but IFAD also mobilizes and channels climate finance through investments and other sources, helping indigenous communities increase their participation and benefit from climate action.

Food sovereignty

The updated policy introduces a new principle of indigenous food security to ensure the protection and preservation of Indigenous Peoples’ food systems.

Indigenous Peoples in the Philippines Cordillera region learn new methods of fruit production of tree maintenance. © IFAD/Irshad Khan


Wolde Tadesse: We are all different. We have different kinds of cereals, like sorghum, millet, barley, and different varieties of these crops. Diversity is a solution to many problems, with Indigenous Peoples’ unrecognised food crops bringing hope and security to humanity—with the right support and recognition.

It's good for Indigenous Peoples and it’s good for the earth that agriculture has not been fully taken over by a few. The wild is a free area, and in this freedom, bees thrive, birds thrive, antelopes thrive, and Indigenous Peoples thrive.

Ilaria Firmian: To feed the world sustainably, we need diverse, nutritious foods that are available, accessible and affordable. Indigenous Peoples’ food systems are dependent on secure access rights to their lands, territories and natural resources, as well as their cultural, social and spiritual well-being.

Indigenous Peoples and governance

The new policy mandates that representatives of Indigenous Peoples are observers at IFAD’s Governing Council when items concerning them are on the agenda.

A member of Colombia's Pijao-Natagaima indigenous group points towards a sugar cane plot. © IFAD/Michael Benanav


Ilaria Firmian: This is one of the most important steps the new policy has taken. It enhances representation of Indigenous Peoples in IFAD’s governance bodies and ensures that no decisions about them are made without them.

Yun Mane: It's very important for Indigenous Peoples to be heard at the Governing Council. Involvement with IFAD helps to make our voices louder, it helps us speak out, make positive changes and contribute to sustainable development. This way, the rights of Indigenous Peoples to our land and natural resources are recognised and our identity is preserved.

Dealing with climate change mitigation and protecting biodiversity is invaluable for Indigenous Peoples. But it’s not just for us, it’s for everyone, for all the world.