DEVELOPMENT: Indigenous Peoples Have a New Forum Now

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By Stefano Colombo in Rome

Indigenous peoples comprise one-third of the world's one billion extreme poor in rural areas. They are among the most vulnerable and marginalized of any group. Spread over 70 countries and representing diverse cultural backgrounds, they share many concerns such as limited access to healthcare and education, loss of control over lands, displacement and violations of basic human rights.

In order to find a way out of their plight, they have been asking for a more systematic dialogue with United Nations agencies. The International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) has responded with a series of initiatives in the past seven years and accumulated valuable experience in establishing constructive dialogue with them.

Such a dialogue will now be held in the so-called Indigenous 'Peoples' Forum under the auspices of IFAD. The forum was established in the wake of a two-day workshop that concluded on February 18 in Rome.

Organized by the Fund with the support of the International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs (IWGIA), the workshop was attended by about 30 representatives of indigenous peoples' organizations and IFAD staff.

IFAD is not new to such a consultation process. In establishing the Indigenous Peoples' Forum, IFAD will build on the lessons and experience deriving from the existing Farmers' Forum.

The group determined that the first global meeting of the indigenous people's forum will take place in conjunction with the IFAD Governing Council in 2013.

According to IFAD, the Fund's special interest in supporting indigenous peoples is based not only on poverty reduction, social justice and humanitarian concerns, but also the value that indigenous people in many cases contribute to sustainable agriculture, especially given the rich knowledge and understanding of ecosystem management that they have.

Explaining the rationale behind the forum, IFAD president Kanayo Nwanze said: "The work we do at the forum will be important, but we all agree that it is just one step in a long-term commitment to reaching our dual goals of equity and economic opportunity for indigenous peoples."

"It is important that an indigenous peoples forum in IFAD be established so that the indigenous peoples will have an opportunity to share their views and recommendations on how IFAD can respond more effectively to indigenous peoples' needs, aspirations and priorities," said Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, Convenor, Asian Indigenous Women’s Network and Former Chair of United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII). "It will also enhance further the partnership between IFAD and indigenous peoples," she concluded.

Mirna Cunningham Kain, Chair Center for autonomy and development of indigenous peoples in Nicaragua and member of the UNPFII, said: "IFAD's policy of engagement with indigenous peoples offers an opportunity to address injustice that indigenous peoples has suffered in rural areas in the world and the establishment of an indigenous forum in IFAD is an innovative step, gives us voice and visibility that can and should help change rural development practices in our countries."

According to Joseph Ole Simel, Chairman of Africa indigenous peoples' climate change network and Executive Director, Mainyoito pastoralist integrated development organization in Kenya, the IFAD initiative on indigenous peoples forum is "a great idea of the 21st century for indigenous peoples".

"The forum will assist or enable both indigenous peoples and IFAD to deal with the problem of underdevelopment in a fundamental way. It will be the engine that will facilitate us to direct our efforts at the root causes of extreme poverty among indigenous peoples," he concluded.

From IFAD's perspective, the objectives of the Indigenous Peoples' Forum, as set forth in the annex to its Policy on Engagement with Indigenous Peoples explaining the process, are to:
- share and discuss the assessment of IFAD’s engagement with indigenous peoples among IFAD staff, Member States and indigenous peoples’ representatives;
- consult on rural development and poverty reduction; and
- promote the participation of indigenous peoples’ organizations in IFAD's activities at the country, regional and international levels.

The activities of the forum will focus on indigenous peoples' consultations and involvement in the development of IFAD's country strategies, project design, implementation and monitoring processes, and in policy dialogue and advocacy.

In so doing, the Forum will also support IFAD in implementing its Policy on Engagement with Indigenous Peoples and in translating its principles into action on the ground. Moreover, the Forum will promote accountability by encouraging feedback by indigenous peoples' representatives on IFAD's operations.

IFAD works with poor rural people to enable them to grow and sell more food, increase their incomes and determine the direction of their own lives. Since 1978, the Fund has invested over US$12.5 billion in grants and low-interest loans to developing countries, empowering more than 370 million people to break out of poverty.

IFAD is an international financial institution and a specialized UN agency based in Rome -- the UN’s food and agricultural hub. It is a unique partnership of 165 members from the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), other developing countries and the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

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