Indigenous food sovereignty requires better and more accurate data collection

This article originally appeared on The Conversation, an independent, nonprofit source of news, analysis and commentary from academic experts. Disclosure information is available on the original site.

This article originally appeared on The Conversation, an independent, nonprofit source of news, analysis and commentary from academic experts. Disclosure information is available on the original site.


Authors: Omid Mirzaei, Assistant Professor, Department of Economics, University of Regina and David Natcher, Professor, College of Agriculture and Bioresources, University of Saskatchewan

Indigenous communities are increasingly investing in agriculture to sustain their cultures and economies. Indigenous peoples have a long history with agriculture — a history that has not always been acknowledged.

For much of the 20th century, scholars argued that Indigenous Farmers in Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the United States (CANZUS) were marginal food producers who used unsustainable farming practices, such as logging and burning, which led to environmental declines and their ultimate downfall. .

These researchers argued that the “primitiveness” of Aboriginal agriculture was reflected in the technologies they used. They postulated that the tools used by indigenous peoples, such as the digging stick, were rudimentary compared to the more advanced plow culture used by European farmers.

We now know that these claims are incorrect; Indigenous peoples of CANZUS have long engaged in sophisticated forms of agriculture. By some estimates, native farmers outnumbered European wheat growers in the 17th and 18th centuries by a margin of three to five times per acre.

Despite the growing desire of Indigenous communities to engage in large-scale commercial agriculture, there is still a lack of data on Indigenous engagement in the CANZUS agricultural sector. This data is essential to inform policies that aim to support Indigenous engagement and diversity in agriculture.

Indigenous Food Sovereignty

By erasing Indigenous agricultural histories, based on the notion of terra nullius, CANZUS governments justified their appropriation of Indigenous lands and the territorial dispossession of Indigenous peoples.

Meaning in Latin “land belonging to no one”, terra nullius was a legal term used in the Doctrine of Discovery to refer to land that was not occupied by settlers or used according to their law and culture. These lands were considered “vacant” and available for settlement.

Yet, in the face of government efforts to dismantle indigenous agricultural economies, indigenous peoples have remained resilient and are making important strides towards food sovereignty through the revitalization of indigenous food systems and cultural traditions.

Beyond food sovereignty, by reclaiming their agricultural roots, indigenous peoples also alleviate food insecurity and contribute to the economic development of their communities. As supporters of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, it is important that CANZUS governments prioritize and support these Indigenous food sovereignty initiatives.

National databases are lacking

Although indigenous peoples have been involved in the agricultural sector since pre-colonial times, it is only recently that contemporary agriculture has become a political priority for the development and well-being of indigenous communities.

However, there is little knowledge of contemporary Indigenous agriculture in CANZUS due to the lack of comprehensive databases at the national level. National-scale data collection tools that are currently available are still relatively new or non-existent.

1. Canada

In Canada, the Census of Agriculture does not allow farm and ranch producers to self-identify as Aboriginal. However, data from the Census of Agriculture and the Census of Population provide some information on the participation of Aboriginal people in agricultural activities.

The data from the two censuses are linked using information common to both questionnaires such as the name, sex, date of birth and address of the operators. This information is used to create the Agriculture-People Linkages Database, which provides valuable information on Aboriginal engagement in agriculture in Canada.

2. Australia

Australia does not maintain a nationwide database of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander (collectively referred to as Indigenous) production in agriculture. The Australian Bureau of Statistics’ Agricultural Census also does not allow agricultural and ranch producers to self-identify as Indigenous, creating a significant data gap on Indigenous farms in Australia.

Despite this, information is still available on those employed in the industry, including those who identify as Indigenous, through the Australian Bureau of Statistics’ Population and Housing Census.

3. New Zealand

In New Zealand, information on Maori farms (Maori are the indigenous Polynesian people of New Zealand, or Aotearoa in the Maori language), is compiled using the Agricultural Production Survey.

Maori farms are identified by matching the survey to three data sources: Maori businesses from Maori authorities, self-identified Maori businesses from the business operations survey and a database held by Statistics partner New Zealand, Putama Trust. The matching process provides information about Maori engagement in agriculture, such as the number of farms, livestock and horticultural crops that Maori farms own.

4. United States

In the United States, a nationwide data collection effort was piloted in 2002 in Montana, North Dakota, and South Dakota to collect information on agricultural activity on reservations Native Americans. Beginning with the 2007 Census of Agriculture, this pilot project was expanded to include reservations across the United States.

The United States Census of Agriculture allows producers of farms and ranches to self-report agricultural activity on Native American reservations. If producers don’t respond to the mailed report, census workers — many of whom are tribal members able to overcome language or cultural barriers — contact them in person to help them fill out their forms. The process provides insight into agricultural activity on reservations in the United States

Better data is needed

The lack of baseline data on the scale and scope of Aboriginal involvement in the agricultural sector continues to be a barrier to effective participation of Aboriginal communities in the sector. This lack of data prevents governments and agrifood organizations from knowing what kinds of support should be provided to reinvigorate Indigenous agricultural economies.

To better support indigenous peoples’ involvement in agriculture, more accurate data is needed. Being able to collect such data is crucial to developing a framework for indigenous peoples and communities who wish to start or expand their engagement with the agricultural sector.


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This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Disclosure information is available on the original site. Read the original article:

Omid Mirzaei, Assistant Professor, Department of Economics, University of Regina and David Natcher, Professor, College of Agriculture and Bioresources, University of Saskatchewan, The Conversation

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