Biocultural diversity valorization of food systems

Food Security18 Mar 2013Claudia Ranaboldo

A new kind of entrepreneurs, capable to bet on innovation as a social and cultural shared practice to drive change, is needed for food and nutrition security. Some reflections from Latin America.

In the last weeks, international newspapers like The Guardian and press agencies as Inter Press Service (IPS) put on evidence the benefits of School Meals Program in Latin America and Africa not only to fight malnutrition but also to give more market opportunities to local small-scale farmers.

In my opinion, it would be really useful to enlarge the picture and consider addressing malnutrition and food insecurity as an entry strategy for sustainable and inclusive development of resilient territories. How it can be done? Enhancing processes of biocultural diversity valorization of food systems.

Since 2005, I have been coordinating the Rural Territorial Development with Cultural Identity Program (RTD-CI), a Latin America regional initiative implemented in 14 territories of 8 countries by RIMISP, the Latin-American Center for Rural Development. In few words, the main objective of the program has been to put into practice research-applied projects focusing on the valorization of natural and cultural “assets” to obtain products and services with identity towards sustainable and inclusive territorial development.1

Currently, we are working to integrate the biocultural diversity valorization of food systems for territorial development in the main national school meals governmental program in Peru and on some rural development projects implemented by international cooperation governmental agencies in Bolivia. Let me show you the main elements of the approach:

1. Territorial development focus. It implies an inter-sectorial perspective. We consider a territory not only as a geographical area but also as a social and cultural space that expresses an identity characterized by natural and cultural heritage. It represents the territorial socio-economical “assets”, results of processes mainly originated by the human-nature relations and determining the predominant economic activities. Considering the assets as a whole allows designing development strategies to achieve the articulation and integration of different sectors and actors.

2. Governance empowerment. To accomplish an effective, sustainable program it needs a solid multilevel and multi-stakeholders consultation with organizational and decision-making capabilities, quality and efficiency control along all the chain. The leadership of local authorities is fundamental as it is the negotiation and partnership capacity of the small-scale farmers, the active involvement of the civic society and the education authorities.

3. Cultural Identity Valorization. Food may have strong symbolic value and is always associated with social well-being and cultural identity which valorization can go hand on hand with the one of a food system, boosting the self-esteem and the promotion of the own cultural roots not only for the producers but also for chefs, cooks, rural no-agricultural entrepreneurs and people, first of all the pupils, enhancing socio-economical development processes on different sectors directly and indirectly linked with the food system.

4. Biodiversity Valorization. It can be achieved with on-farm conservation initiatives but also with wild biodiversity conservation and utilization, that especially in the case of Amazonia represents the biggest part of the food system. Stimulating the small-scale farmers on cultivate traditional local crops and varieties while conserving the diversity fights the erosion of the agricultural biodiversity and promote an environmentally sustainable use of the natural resources. For example, through the implementation of programs of biocultural diversity valorization of food systems the governments could indirectly set a system of “payments for environmental services” while at the same time give the small-scale producers a better, sustainable and inclusive access to local and national market. Small-scale farmers can manage and use traditional agro- and wild biodiversity to comparative economic advantage on the premise that the products marketed are desired by, and offer nutritional and sociocultural benefits to consumers.

5. Innovative Learning System. It is not just about the valorization of the traditional knowledge or the participated research approach. It needs to go further and integrate the local knowledge with the scientific research to establish and coordinate a transdisciplinary research&action innovative learning system addressing sustainability and resilience. According to Nicolescu, B. (2008) “A crucial characteristic of transdisciplinarity is the inclusion of stakeholders in defining research objectives and strategies in order to better incorporate the diffusion of learning produced by the research. Collaboration between stakeholders is deemed essential – not merely at an academic or disciplinary collaboration level, but through active collaboration with people affected by the research and community-based stakeholders. In such a way, transdisciplinary collaboration becomes uniquely capable of engaging with different ways of knowing the world, generating new knowledge, and helping stakeholders understand and incorporate the results or lessons learned by the research”. Following this perspective we organized with the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Perú the first in Latin America Diploma on “Territorial Development with Cultural Identity” open also to community leaders and Bottom of the Pyramid (BoP) actors and in which innovative local entrepreneurs, traditional knowledge masters, local authorities and development experts teach beside university professors.

6. Good Food Culture and Education. To stimulate changes in nutrition behavior we need to educate especially the young generations to food culture centred on good food, a quality, healthy, eco-friendly food, able to reflect your identity and to remember you your life experience, your places, your grandpas, to consequently motivate shifts in production and consumption patterns. Quality and quantity of food don’t exclude one each other. Food culture and its world of traditions, rituals, tools, history and legends is an underestimated vehicle for promoting positive behaviors, to be nurtured with knowledge exchange events, taste laboratories, fairs, home and school gardens, awareness-raising campaigns, recipe books and cooking classes. That`s why we partner with civil society movements like Slow Food in Peru, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia and Brazil and public associations as APEGA, the Gastronomy Society of Peru.

During all these years the efforts of our RTD-CI Program have been targeting both the BoP and national/regional players, involving territorial actors on the consolidation of a regional multi-stakeholders network of networks able to: (i) manage multilevel governance relations; (ii) perform inter-pares learning exchange and empowerment based on real-life on-field experiences; (iii) facilitate the growing of a new class of entrepreneurs, capable to bet on innovation as a social and cultural shared practice to drive change and to accomplish effective private association and public-private partnerships; (iv) introduce and foster an Innovative Learning System orienting the social and behavioral change dealing with the development dynamics.

All the elements and the outcomes mentioned above have to be framed within the final objective of our biocultural diversity valorization of food systems approach that is to build up resilient territorial systems, able to react to disturbances and changes on a sustainable way, without loosing their characteristics, their structure, their identity. The biocultural diversity valorization of food systems represents a sustainable, innovative and inclusive development strategy, for territories without strong natural and cultural assets too.


  1. For more information access the 2005-2011 RTD-CI Program Narrative Report