Interaction and cultural diversity: Key drivers of the Fellowship Programme

Interaction and cultural diversity: Key drivers of the Fellowship Programme

Meet a Mentor 

The journey of TIP Youth Fellowships is not just about the young minds and their communities, but a selection of sensitised stewardship. The TIP Fellowship allows the indigenous Fellows to meet academic and mainstream experts who have been deeply involved in not just a sphere of study but also who have a bent towards understanding grassroots knowledge systems.

Lukas Pawera, Ph.D. student at the Faculty of Tropical AgriSciences of the Czech University of Life Sciences, Prague, is a multidisciplinary ethnobiologist studying the relationship of people with nature, agrobiodiversity and food. Lukas is scaling up the potential of biodiversity and local resources to sustainably improve nutrition, health, and ensure resilient livelihood. He has trained the Fellows on Ethnobotany during the TIP Youth Fellowship Programme 2017, sharing his experiences with anthropological, botanical and ecological methods for agrobiodiversity mapping and assessment. Here he expresses the opportunities that the Fellowship program offers not just to the Fellows but also the larger conversation of indigenous research.

Lukas Pawera at a picnic during the TIP Fellowship Programme 2017

The Opportunity

TIP Fellowship represents a very unique opportunity for indigenous youth as it helps them to gain knowledge, skills and confidence necessary for maintaining their food and agricultural systems with agrobiodiversity at the core. It also offers multi-cultural knowledge exchange among the fellows, enabling identification of common problems as well as strengths of the indigenous food systems.This mutually reinforcing experience makes the youth more confident in their views, ideas, feelings and aspirations. The linking of fellows with the selected international research and development community helps them not only increase their know-how, but also motivates them and enhances their understanding of the global importance of local agrobiodiversity, traditional foods and indigenous lands and nature. I have had the happy privilege of already seeing the farming communities from where the fellows are coming from are benefiting through the projects developed by the fellows. The fellows are thus the key nodes in the indigenous networks and after their training, through their communities; they will have a positive impact on nature and resources at all levels from the local area to the global community.

The Interactions and Collaborations

My strongest feeling during the fellowship 2017 was simply the fact that I met and interacted with young people who were truly passionate about maintaining agrobiodiversity… and moreover who were coming from the most agro-biodiverse regions of the world. This was an immediate driver of my interest and passion to collaborate. As an ethnobiologist, I am also very interested in cultural diversity, and the fact that I could not only interact but also become friends with similarly thinking human beings from distant and remote corners of the globe.

It was simply fascinating and I enjoyed attending several workshops with them and organising an ethnobotanical seminar where I could share my experiences with ethnobotanical methods. But one of the most memorable moments was when Pius and Jump were cooking their traditional foods in our flat. That day, all of us and some Bioversity friends had such great fun and the food was so yummy…a true coming together of planet, people and palette!

TIP Fellows could change threats to opportunities!

I would like to encourage the Fellows to continue in the great work that they are doing after the Fellowship, and in sharing their knowledge and skills with their colleagues and other communities. It would be great if they build a larger local network or movement, take a lead and scale the interventions and impact and they are already doing that. The contemporary world is changing too fast, and we need to scale and bring similar interventions to as many indigenous communities as possible, before the remaining agrobiodiversity, nature and associated traditional knowledge is lost. I would also recommend turning the threats into opportunities. Current threats such as TV and media which are changing values and food systems could be used in an opposite and innovative way for sharing the benefits, importance and potential of local foods, biodiversity, agroecology and indigenous knowledge and culture. The technologies can also be used for a catchy way of documenting bio-cultural diversity through photos, GPS mapping, recording, video stories, etc.

Lukas Pawera with the Fellows of the 2017 Programme

The other main threats are the rising economical needs and the reality is that we should not only conserve the biological and cultural diversity, but we should support the local livelihood by generating income or job creation through the biocultural diversity-sensitive development. This can be done by creating agrobiodiversity-based income opportunities. Developing specific local food/herbal products and handicrafts, ensuring certification and fair prices,linking organic producers with consumers and eco-tourism are some possible examples. Lastly, I would encourage the Fellows to keep their eyes and minds open first to personal exploration of indigenous culture and then to possibly a larger-scale and community-driven revival of local wisdom and culture. For example, In Indonesia, there is a recent and rapidly expanding indigenous movement of community-based customary schools where youths and children are learning and reviving traditional knowledge and culture. Secondly, I think we all should learn to think more holistically and start linking more things together. For example, the projects which combine agriculture with nutrition, or indigenous culture with nature conservation, or bio-cultural diversity with tourism, or land management with livelihood might have a multilevel impact and alsoa higher chance to be supported. Yet, no one can do everything, and the Fellows should determine themselves what they are passionate about and where they see the opportunity considering their local context.

Training on Ethnobotany with Lukas Pawera

Looking at the strengths of the Fellows, all of them are young, passionate and unique individuals who have very clear vision and goals. This is of utmost importance, and the support in form of training and networking will help them to achieve their goals. The inner drive, intelligence and active approach of Pius, even for solving complex issues, will always be a source of inspiration for me and others. Alethea is a passionate, sharp and hardworking young lady who is talented in bringing local stories to the global audience. Jump is an incredible chef able to transform agrobiodiversity into a delicious dish anywhere and anytime. I admire his holistic approach of combining gastronomy and local products with forest conservation and advocacy of shifting cultivation. Roba is a very humble friend and a smart person who is a great listener as well as speaker and storyteller. He has a broad range of skills and I am sure that after finishing his university degree in the United States he will continue supporting traditional pastoralist communities in Ethiopia.

Challenges become Fellowship roadmaps…

What I see as a first challenge is documenting and understanding the vast agrobiodiversity which exists in the homeland of the Fellows. Once the Fellows will properly document, identify and value the treasure they have, they can build strong follow up activities. Therefore, the Fellowship could integrate more strongly an exercise on agrobiodiversity documentation and categorisation from both indigenous views and from standard scientific categories. Categorisation of things helps people to communicate, work and live. While scientific categorisation tends to apply a standard categorisation globally (which is good for a cross-country comparison), indigenous peoples have hundreds of different folk categories in local languages which fits their local context. The agrobiodiversity categorisation exercise might be interesting, fun, and would act as a bridge between indigenous and scientific knowledge.

Fellows Pius Ranee and Alethea Kordor Lyngdoh during a field trip at the 2017 Fellowship Programme

Then, as the Fellows are usually very active and practical young people, I would recommend besides research and networking-oriented training in Rome, to get practical field training in some grassroots NGO or Bioversity field offices. Mobilising communities, facilitating a field workshop, conducting FGD, identifying agrobiodiversity,participating in a farmer field school, observing a community seedbank, visiting a school garden, organising markets orfestivals are the most useful activities based on my observation.

As some Fellows are also interested in product development, theoretical or practical training on the development of small-scale food and herbal products would be useful if they were a part of the Fellowship. This could be greatly complemented by visiting some related small-scale enterprise.

For effective training, networking and Fellowship flow in Rome, it might be good if the Fellows would come with an already existing specific interest, questions and preliminary workplan/table of activities which they are planning to implement in their respective areas. And lastly, the basics of project management, proposal and budget development are always useful things to learn particularly for young people who are planning to develop their own projects.

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