Shillong, Nov 3: Indigenous communities from 58 countries have assembled in this mountainous state capital of Meghalaya to celebrate their food cultures and to discuss how to bring their knowledge and food production into modern times.
The five-day Indigenous Terra Madre festival, a fiesta of never-before-seen delights cradled through centuries and passed on from generation to generation, began on Tuesday. Being held in India for the first time, it is being hosted by 41 villages across Meghalaya, which is described as the Abode of Clouds.
Over 600 delegates belonging to 147 indigenous communities from 58 countries, including tribes from the aboriginal lands of Australia, the Amazonian Indians, native American Indians and other indigenous communities from African and Asian countries, besides 59 indigenous communities from India, are participating in the festival.
Terra Madre is a worldwide network, launched by Slow Food in 2004, which unites small-scale producers from 163 countries involved in the sustainable food production. It has also created a network of 372 indigenous food communities, 41 indigenous Presidia projects and 308 indigenous Ark of Taste products.
What’s more, these timeless flavours will be shared and experimented with star chefs from around the world. All these will be anchored by the host communities from India’s northeastern states, who will unravel the secrets of their lands. The significance of the event in Shillong is that it is only the second time that the event is happening globally after its predecessor in 2011 in Jokkmokk, Sweden – hosted by Slow Food Sampi – the indigenous peoples of northern Europe.
The programme is organised by the Indigenous Partnership (Rome) and North East Slow Food and Agrobiodiversity Society (NESFAS) in collaboration with Slow Food International and the Meghalaya government. The Indigenous Terra Madre will also feature a slow food festival at Mawphlang sacred grove.
“The festival is a unique opportunity for the indigenous communities from around the world to celebrate their food cultures and discuss how to bring their knowledge and vision of local food systems into modern times,” Phrang Roy, International Coordinator of Slow Food International, told IANS.
Apart from food , the festival will also highlight the Slow Fashion of the North East movement, which aims to glamorise traditional textiles and weaving practices in the northeastern states that are a crucial part of the sustainable, environmental and ethical movements of the world.
“In doing so it will also bring other global agencies associated with the United Nations and other global supporters of traditional knowledge, evolving skills and sustainable practices that safeguard natural resources and contribute to a resilient food system that promotes a more humane future for a diverse world,” Roy explained.
Roy, who had introduced the Slow Food in Meghalaya five years ago under the aegis of North East Slow Food and Agrobiodiversity Society, said that the festival will also strengthen the close connections between land, traditional agro-ecological practices, and its impact on the regions biocultural diversity.
Moreover, he said that the mega-event will also be a platform for these food communities to interact and engage with scientists and policymakers who are constantly navigating modern issues related to food and nutrition.
Meghalaya Chief Minister Mukul Sangma, who inaugurated the fiesta at the North Eastern Hill University campus, said it will help to leverage the culinary expertise of the indigenous communities, thus creating economic and sustainable opportunities for the benefit of all stakeholders.
“The festival gives an opportunity for Meghalaya and other northeastern states to connect with the rest of India and the world. The intention of the state government is to encourage people to remain connected with their way of life which is farming and this would help people change their perception of farming activities and reverse the problem of urban migration,” Sangma said.
Joining the global voices in supporting this gathering were two special video messages. One was from Prince Charles, well known for his humanitarian and social interests and championing organic farming while the other is from M.S.Swaminathan, described by the United Nations Environment Programme as “the Father of Economic Ecology”.