He is then traced to his family, who are spread across 24 villages in a tropical region of Ecuador, from the mountains of the Andes to the lowlands of the Amazon. The Shuar tribe, to which it belongs, has lived there for centuries.
Growing up in the wild with armadillos, monkeys and boa constrictors, the 24-year-old Zimbizi (known as Shushui by his family) has a deep respect for nature and recognizes its fragility. The community, says Zimbijti, knows it can make money by exploiting the land—such as extracting and selling salt from a rare saltwater spring. But it doesn’t choose.
“We take in enough but not too much,” he says. “It would be a lack of respect for everything and would create a total imbalance.”
“This is a lesson that is really important for the modern day, when we are facing all the crises of climate breakdown, growing inequality and loss of biodiversity,” he says.
give back to nature
“Indigenous peoples have harmony and interrelationship with (nature) which is based on balance and cooperation,” says Roy.
In the Khasi community of Roy, located in the foothills of the Himalayas in northeastern India, it is customary to light a fire in the morning and boil water for tea before going to the fields. People then take the ashes from the fire and spread it on communal crops “as manure or fertilizer for the land, showing their identity,” says Roy.
While collecting honey from the hives high in the trees, the Baka people of Cameroon sprinkle the seeds of fruit trees to mark the path to the hive. According to the FAO report, this helps the region to regenerate and spread biodiversity, thereby compensating for disturbances in vegetation during honey harvest.
This focus on nutrition and regeneration is in contrast to modern agriculture, which generally aims to achieve the highest yields for maximum profit.
For example, fallow land (leaving the soil unplanted for some time) has long been a tradition of indigenous peoples. But in modern farming it has historically been seen as a barren land. Roy explains how, in India, economic development has transformed indigenous fallow lands to produce the same crop, such as rice, year after year.
“On these fallow lands, there are many generations of wild foods that are very nutrient rich, and important to trees, bees, pollinators and birds,” says Roy. “We can’t just take everything out, it needs to be refilled even when we’re used to it.”
The influence of modern culture and increasing access to markets is also having a detrimental effect. Indigenous peoples today are more dependent on the global market for production, with the FAO noting that some groups derive almost half of their food from it.
The Zimbizi have seen this directly in the Shuar community. He says that ever since mining companies entered the area, packaged and processed foods have been introduced. His community now eats chicken, chocolate, butter and sardines, which he has never eaten before.
It is changing not only diet, but also health and lifestyle. “People have become lazy,” and have put on weight, he says — adopting a more sedentary rather than nomadic lifestyle.
“Our culture is going through a very strong transition,” says Zimbizi. “We are losing our roots.”
To protect these cultures, Roy urged nations to guarantee indigenous peoples “rights to land” and “rights to traditional knowledge and language”. If the local language begins to deteriorate because it is not taught in local schools, community members forget the names of plants and herbs and ancient practices, he says.
The FAO report calls for more inclusive dialogue with indigenous peoples and their involvement in sustainable management decisions. It concludes that “the world cannot sustain itself without listening to indigenous peoples.”
Roy believes that the biggest lesson to be learned is the value system of indigenous peoples: the worldview that “land and nature are not one commodity.”