First steps in support of food sovereignty in the Heart of Borneo
By: Cristina Eghenter
Food is a basic need and human right. Anthropologists, folklorists and historians have told us that food consumption, what we classify as food, how we prepare and eat it, also embodies deep cultural meanings. Food recipes reflect history, carry traditions and reveal the identity of ethnic groups. Food marks every celebration of the life-cycle. Food is also part of a production system which takes from the earth, the sea, and the bounty and diversity of natural resources, and through the able and knowledgeable hands of farmers, fisherfolks, and food artisans, delivers to the market and enters social circles. Seeing food in this relational dimension raises a new awareness of how food choices and consumption can help transform production and create a stronger connection between producers and consumers, for more sustainability.
In the HoB, culinary traditions reflect and make use of the rich biodiversity of the forests, gardens, fields and rivers of the interior. They also define the ethnic identity of the communities in HoB. While the communities share the knowledge and use of a large number of food plants and main ingredients of local cuisine, they also display unique ways to process and cook the food, and have special food preference that set them apart as an ethnic community by eating, for example: sagu, soft rice, rice mixed with taro, etc.
Products like the Krayan Adan rice, with its characteristic three varieties (white, red and black), mountain salt from the Highlands in HoB, wild honey from the lakes of Danau Sentarum, the many fish varieties of the rivers in and around the Sebangau protected area, and many more products from Indigenous communities are becoming quite popular and are being promoted and marketed locally and nationally. Some of these products are also supported by WWF Indonesia as part of the Green& Fair Products Initiative to facilitate rural-urban linkages, and integrate market, conservation, and equity concerns. Most recently, Krayan Adan rice and mountain salt were invited to be part of the AsioGusto fair and exhibit in South Korea (October 2013), an event organized in collaboration with the Slow Food movement.
In the context of the Heart of Borneo, the issue of food security cannot be separated from that of food sovereignty, and traditional knowledge and practices that have sustained management of natural resources and the livelihoods of communities for centuries. Security with regard of food, and land use sustainability, are certainly of concern especially in light of the increasing conversion of land to agri-business in many landscapes in Borneo. But it is the local resilience and independence of communities and villages the point of start and main objective in building long-term food security and reducing vulnerability at local level. The in-situ conservation and protection of the agro-biodiversity of local products and knowledge through certification, promotion, and cultivation, but also the discovery and safeguarding of the cultural identity of food were discussed in a two-day exchange in Pontianak (28-29 November) among local communities’ representatives, local NGOs and government representatives. This was another important step in the direction of developing a coherent and effective strategy to look at the issue of food in HoB in its complexity of biodiversity conservation, rights and sovereignty, and local economies. Through a focus on food, we can also help build a virtual community of producers and consumers, where the latter come to know the places, stories and gestures behind the food, no longer an anonymous product, but the mirror of specific economic, environmental and socio-cultural dimensions.