Sponsored by the Meghalayan Government, The Christensen Fund, FA,UN, EU and Brot German, ITM 2015 witnessed participation of 650 delegates from 140 indigenous tribes hailing from 58 countries of the world
By Akhil Kapoor
Between 3 and 7 November of 2015, indigenous people from 140 tribes and 58 countries, as well as, their exponents from around the world came together in Shillong, the capital of the north eastern state of Meghalaya, for the second Indigenous Terra Madre (ITM 2015) or International Mei-Ramew*, as it was locally monikered. Bearing the theme, ‘The Future We Want: Indigenous Perspectives and Actions’, the event created a space for inter-nation exchange on how to shape a future for food that is more just, holistic, and reverential of land and its resources. Robust participation of over 650 delegates from across the world made ITM a captivating kaleidoscope of indigenous people under one roof.
Slow Food International, North East Slow Food and Agrobiodiversity Society (NESFAS), and Indigenous Partnership for Agrobiodiversity and Food Sovereignty were instrumental in bringing this world event to Shillong, north-east India. The event was sponsored by the Meghalayan Government, The Christensen Fund, FA,UN, EU and Brot German. ITM 2015 and the Mei Ramew Food Festival were also strongly supported by Slow Food Delhi, Slow Food India and Slow Food Chef’s Alliance.
Robust participation of 58 countries from across the world made International Terra Madre a captivating kaleidoscope of hundreds of indigenous people under a single roof
Following the first Terra Madre held in 2011, which was hosted by the Sami people in their arctic homelands, this event once more drew international attention to the wealth of traditional ecological knowledge and sustainable practices that safeguard the rich agro-biodiversity of lands and local communities. Not only did ITM 2015 provide a forum for the world to celebrate how indigenous people in North East India contribute to resilient food systems, it also allowed them to connect with others from around the world facing similar successes and pressures. By bringing these communities together with scientists, policy makers and the private sector, ITM 2015 leads the way for a future wherein sustainable approaches like agro-ecology and local food systems are incorporated into meaningful public policies—where marginalised voices are championed, where food is honoured and where well being and intrinsic values are recognised as important components of local livelihoods.
ITM 2015 was inaugurated by Chief Minister of the state, Dr Mukul Sangma and showcased the amazing musical and cultural diversity of indigenous northeast India. The event commenced with the blessings of Mei Ramew, without whose gifts none of the delegates could have gathered together. From musical performances to keynote addresses, the message was clear: We must protect the diversity of languages, foods, music and dress woven into the culture of indigenous people and local communities if we hope to have any future at all. “Only by learning from these systems can we begin to construct a more human and diverse world,” stated Phrang Roy, coordinator of the Indigenous Partnership and NESFAS. Warning of the devastation that will result if we continue to worship commerce, Carlo Petrini, president of Slow Food International, rallied participants to combat the globalisation of a “criminal” food system by defending unique and indigenous fruits and vegetables, animal breeds and processing techniques.
Sustainable Development—The Days Ahead
Inauguration was followed by three days of in depth exploration of major themes that contribute to the future focus area—themes that continue to be at the fore of discussion at global gatherings with representative communities and indigenous leaders. Topics highlighted at the conference included:
- Food is not a Commodity
- Promoting Local Indigenous Economies & Livelihoods for Well being
- Sustainable Development Goals & the Future We Want
- Land & its Resources should re revered
- Pastoralists & their Challenges
- Giving Voice to Marginalised Communities
- Different Communities, Different Stories
- Well being in the ‘We Feeling’
International Food Festival
ITM 2015 concluded with a Food Festival on November 7. It was attended by an unprecedented 50,000 people, and showcased a delicious mix of indigenous staples and delicacies. Local yet geographically distinct flavours brought young people closer to their traditional foods.
Evidently, ITM 2015 has succeeded in generating enormous awareness about indigenous foods and brought to centre stage the huge potential in leveraging global biodiversity and wisdom of the indigenous people. In his closing remarks at the scenic event locale of Maw Phlang, the sacred forest on the outskirts of Shillong, Sangma echoed this sentiment, stating that ITM 2015 exposed Shillong to the global indigenous people, who can now connect through traditional foods and local cuisines as they deliberate over the future they want for a happier global people.
*Mei-Ramew means Mother Earth in the Khasi (Indigenous North Eastern Indian region of Meghalaya near Shillong) language, and the local communities hosting this event refer to ITM 2015 by this name.
The author is Co Founder, C Green Foods, a social enterprise committed to the preservation and revival of Indian traditional foods. A retired fighter pilot from the Indian Air Force, Akhil is also founding member of the Delhi Organic Farmers’ Market, and head of the Slow Food Delhi convivium