Indigenous spiritual values guide climate change adaptation in mountain communities

Cultural and spiritual values of indigenous peoples and climate change will be the focus of an international event in the Potato Park, Cusco, Peru from 26 April to 2 May 2014.

News, 25 April 2014
Mountains such as the Andes, in Peru, are among the regions most affected by climate change (Photo: David Stanley via Creative Commons

Mountains such as the Andes, in Peru, are among the regions most affected by climate change (Photo: David StanleyCC BY 2.0)

The event will bring together the Monpa and Ura people from central Bhutan, Naxi farmers from Yunnan province of Southwest China, and communities of the Parque de la Papa in Pisaq and the Q'ero nation from Cusco, Peru. They will exchange experiences and good practices on food security and climate change adaptation in mountain environments, that are rooted in indigenous peoples' spiritual values and traditional knowledge.

Mountains are among the regions most affected by climate change. Rising temperatures, disappearing glaciers, increasing weather hazards and loss of biodiversity, are destabilising the delicate balance of mountain ecosystems and the food security and livelihoods of mountain people. Mountains are also home to many of the world's indigenous cultures and languages. They are rich but fragile repositories of biodiversity, water and ecosystem services, containing nearly 50 per cent of the world's biodiversity hot-spots and providing freshwater resources for half of its population.

Climate change is a threat to all these communities and landscapes, albeit to different degrees. At stake are unique agricultural traditions and crops that have evolved in mountain biocultural systems. Six of the world's twenty main food crops originated in the mountains, as well as a large number of domesticated animals, including sheep, goats, yaks, llamas and alpacas. In many mountain regions, indigenous and traditional peoples already face drastic changes in their food and agricultural systems.

"The spiritual traditions of indigenous mountain peoples' are rooted in a deep respect for all forms of life and the relationships between them," says Krystyna Swiderska of the International Institute for Environment and Development, which has organised the event with the Potato Park, Asociacion ANDES and the International Society of Ethnobiology. "These beliefs have enabled indigenous peoples to survive in some of the harshest environments and adapt to climatic changes over the centuries. For indigenous peoples, responses to climate change require a renewed respect for nature, landscapes and food systems and the societies that sustain them."

"The cultural and spiritual values of indigenous peoples are critical to developing appropriate strategies to climate change adaptation in agriculture" says Alejandro Argumedo, Director of Asociacion ANDES. "Responses to climate challenges that are consistent with indigenous peoples' worldviews are proven to be more effective in attaining food sovereignty and endogenous development goals, and serve as a means of strengthening community capacity."

The event will serve as a platform to exchange information on biocultural innovations, identify critical institutional and technical gaps, and explore the role that mountain indigenous peoples' spiritual traditions should play in the development of culturally appropriate responses to climate change.

"The dominant culture is increasingly soulless and fractured and has forgotten that Mother Earth, our Pacha Mama, also has a soul," says Lino Mamani, traditional curator of the Potato Park gene bank. "It saddens me to see that the soul of our Pacha Mama is no longer part of the collective consciousness of this modern world, even though it is so clear that it is the root of everything that nurtures our life".

This indigenous dialogue will be the first step inpromoting Indigenous Biocultural Heritage Territories like the Potato Park in other regions of the world, for food security in the face of climate change. The Potato Park's collective governance system, tools and methods will be discussed, and a similar park will be established by Naxi farmers in an area of rich landrace diversity in Yunnan, China.

The dialogue will provide a space for otherwise marginalized peoples to reflect on their situation and to understand how traditional knowledge and practices associated with their seeds, food and farming systems can help find responses to climate change. It is part of the Mountain Communities Initiative, which will bring together 14 indigenous communities from 10 countries to a meeting in Bhutan in late May to discuss the impact of climate change on traditional food and agricultural systems.

Other issues to be discussed are how best to participate in the development of innovations for resilient agricultural systems, facilitate an ongoing community-to-community exchange of information and innovations, implement effective adaptation strategies, and increase indigenous peoples' capacity to participate in the upcoming meeting of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in Lima, Peru at the end of this year.

For more information contact Krystyna Swiderska (, Alejandro Argumedo ( or Frederick van Oudenhoven (​.