The Indigenous World 2024: IFAD's Engagement with Indigenous Peoples

The Indigenous Peoples’ Forum at the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) was established in 2011 as a permanent process of consultation and dialogue between representatives of Indigenous Peoples’ institutions and organizations, IFAD and governments. The global meeting of the forum convenes every second February in conjunction with IFAD’s Governing Council, the fund’s main decision-making body. A series of regional consultations lead up to each global meeting, ensuring that the forum reflects the diversity of perspectives and recommendations gathered from Indigenous Peoples around the world.

The overall process is guided by a steering committee (SC) composed of representatives of Indigenous Peoples’ organizations from the different regions, representatives of Indigenous youth, the Indigenous Peoples Assistance Facility (IPAF) Board, the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII) and IFAD.

A unique process within the UN system, the forum aims to improve IFAD’s accountability and enhance its development effectiveness for Indigenous Peoples. The global forum process, including its preparatory processes, enables participants to assess IFAD’s engagement with Indigenous Peoples, consult on rural development and poverty reduction, and promote the direct and effective participation of Indigenous Peoples’ organizations in IFAD’s operations at the country, regional and international levels. These activities help IFAD to implement its Policy on Engagement with Indigenous Peoples and translate the policy’s principles into action on the ground.

2023 marked the first year of implementation of IFAD’s updated Policy on Engagement with Indigenous Peoples (December 2022). Following more than a decade of implementation of its first Policy on Engagement with Indigenous Peoples (2009), and in light of the experience and lessons learned on the ground, IFAD committed to updating it in the Report of the Consultation on the 12th Replenishment of IFAD’s Resources to reflect a number of important changes within IFAD and in the global context, with the objective of strengthening the fund’s role in championing Indigenous Peoples’ issues.

IFAD’s updated Policy on Engagement with Indigenous Peoples

IFAD’s updated Policy on Engagement with Indigenous Peoples,[1] approved by the Executive Board in December 2022, began its implementation in 2023. In providing updated information on the situation of Indigenous Peoples and responses to their longstanding and newly emerging challenges through IFAD’s instruments, the updated policy also builds on the fund’s comparative advantage in climate change-related interventions.

The updated policy calls for a paradigm shift whereby IFAD now works with Indigenous Peoples as equal partners who contribute to co-creating strategies and who design and monitor investments to improve their livelihoods based on their own perspectives.

In addition to the nine already existing principles of engagement: (i) recognizing cultural heritage and identity as assets; (ii) free, prior and informed consent; (iii) community-driven development; (iv) land, territories and resources; (v) Indigenous Peoples’ knowledge; (vi) environmental issues and climate change; (vii) access to markets; (viii) empowerment; and (ix) gender equality, the updated policy includes a new principle (number x) on food sovereignty, food security and nutrition.

The updated policy will inform IFAD’s overall engagement with Indigenous Peoples for the next decade, until 2032. The Indigenous Peoples’ Forum at IFAD remains the entry point for engagement with Indigenous Peoples at all levels, and the Indigenous Peoples Assistance Facility (IPAF) as the instrument to work directly with Indigenous Peoples’ communities and their organizations, complementing IFAD’s loan and grants investments. In addition, the other major instruments for policy implementation are policy engagement and partnerships, human resources, and knowledge management.

Theme of the 6th Global Meeting of the Indigenous Peoples’ Forum at IFAD

The 6th global meeting of the Indigenous Peoples’ Forum at IFAD[2] (IPFI) took place on 9, 10 and 13 February 2023, focusing on: Indigenous Peoples’ Climate Leadership: Community-based Solutions to Enhance Resilience and Biodiversity.

Preparation of the global meeting

In preparation for the global meeting,[3] regional and sub-regional consultation meetings took place throughout October and November 2022 gathering insights on the theme in order to inform the meeting with different perspectives from the regions.

The theme of the sixth global meeting places the very life-sustaining capacity of the planet in jeopardy and is hence the single most important threat humanity faces. Its effects are felt across all facets of life, including food security, livelihoods, gender equality, employment, health, and political stability and peace. However, while all ecosystems are affected, the causes and the burden of the effects of climate change are unevenly distributed. Those who contribute the least to the problem must bear the heaviest burden of its effects, aggravating already existing disparities.

Indigenous Peoples, who are intimately connected with and dependent on the land and its resources, and who live in some of the most vulnerable regions and conditions, are on such a receiving end. Their life-sustaining natural and cultural assets are being undermined and their political, economic and social exclusion is being exacerbated by climate change and, at times, climate policies and actions.

Historically, containment, displacement, deracination and dispossession have reduced the land base on which Indigenous Peoples depend, pushing them onto marginal lands, or completely dispossessing them. Their labour, economies and resources have been subordinated to external exploitative interests that have impoverished and marginalized them. Unfortunately, these dynamics continue to be replicated in contemporary policies and practices, including in climate action.

Indigenous Peoples’ perspectives, aspirations, concerns and land relations are, at times, sacrificed in the interests of global biodiversity conservation goals and the extraction of minerals for sustainable energy transitions. Indigenous Peoples are also often excluded from climate debates and decision-making. However, Indigenous Peoples display tremendous resilience, leadership and creativity.

They are revitalizing and inventing practices and ways of thinking that are invaluable in confronting the challenges of climate change, biodiversity conservation and sustainability.

In the discussion on the overall theme, many interventions and presentations by Indigenous Peoples’ representatives, IFAD and partners, such as the Global Climate Fund (GCF), Global Environment Facility (GEF), UN Development Programme (UNDP) and World Bank, enriched the discussion and enabled participants in the forum to debate and dialogue on issues of relevance, to strengthen mutual knowledge, and to assess opportunities for developing synergies and partnerships.

A keynote speech from Ms Sherilee Harper (Associate Professor, School of Public Health, University of Alberta) showed that, according to recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) studies, Indigenous knowledge alone is a valuable source of evidence, wisdom and information that is critical to understanding, responding to, and governing climate change. To benefit from this knowledge, the self-determination of Indigenous Peoples is key. Looking at the future, IPCC reports should include Indigenous lead authors and remove barriers to engaging with Indigenous knowledge.

The role of Indigenous Peoples as leaders in climate matters was emphasized throughout the discussion, particularly due to the special connection they have with their territories. Within this context, Indigenous land tenure remains the foundation for Indigenous People’s well-being, livelihood and autonomy, and the lack of secure land rights constitutes a major threat to climate leadership.

The global meeting

The global meeting brought together 42 Indigenous Peoples’ representatives from 33 Indigenous groups from Africa, Asia and the Pacific, and Latin America and the Caribbean to exchange views on developments in the partnership with IFAD. A total of 57% of the Indigenous representatives were women and 21% were young people under 35 years of age. Over 30 representatives from partner organizations, such as NGOs, foundations, international organizations, UN agencies, research institutes and universities joined the meeting as observers or speakers. Overall, the forum saw the participation of more than 180 attendees.

The global meeting was officially opened by IFAD’s President Alvaro Lario, who emphasized that the only way to turn the tide on climate change was for governments and institutions like IFAD to join forces with Indigenous Peoples. He added that Indigenous Peoples are in fact recognized as the stewards of nature and biodiversity and that they know the land, seas and earth’s plant and animal life “with an intimacy that no agronomist, project designer or funding provider ever will”. According to Mr Lario, the invaluable knowledge of Indigenous Peoples can be a guide to transforming food systems and responding to climate change. “For this to be possible,” he concluded, “there is a need to advocate for social justice and land rights for Indigenous Peoples’ communities.”

The opening remarks from the members of the forum’s steering committee further focused on expressing deep appreciation for IFAD’s commitment and support over the years. They particularly welcomed the updated Policy on Engagement with Indigenous Peoples.

The opening session was closed with the keynote address of Mr Darío José Mejía Montalvo – Chair of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII) – who emphasized the huge contribution of Indigenous Peoples to humanity, the need for a paradigm shift to ensure the fulfilment of their territorial, cultural and political rights, and the need to integrate the knowledge of Indigenous Peoples into policies and investments. He further stressed the need to increase the global budget for projects supporting Indigenous Peoples, including through financing for climate action.

As is the practice at such global meetings, IFAD presented a report analysing the trends and developments in IFAD’s partnership with Indigenous Peoples over the biennium (2021–2022), taking stock of IFAD’s experience and highlighting success stories and achievements.

In addition, IPAF regional co-managers presented the results achieved so far in the implementation of the IPAF projects in Latin America and the Caribbean, Africa and Asia and the Pacific, respectively. The added value of the facility was emphasized by all speakers as a unique instrument for supporting Indigenous Peoples’ self-driven development. According to speakers, the IPAF has strengthened trust within Indigenous communities and successfully supported them to exercise their individual and collective rights and be recognized as contributors to global challenges. At the same time, the need to scale up investments for financing IPAF projects was emphasized.

The Indigenous Peoples Awards ceremony,[4] which was introduced for the first time in forum history in 2021 to recognize the achievements of development projects that effectively engage with Indigenous Peoples, was conducted by Mr Jesús Amadeo Martínez Guzmán, who announced the winners from among the candidates. The “Integral Strengthening Programme for the Camelid Value Chain in the Bolivian High Plateau” (Pro-Camélidos) received the award for best performing IFAD-funded project. The project “Improving the Food Security of Bakola/Bagyeli Children and Ensuring the Self-Sufficiency of the Ngoyang School through Sustainable Agriculture” was awarded best performing IPAF-funded project. Finally, the project “Strengthening Capacities of Community-Based Renewable Energy Systems towards OffGrid Energy Policy Development in the Philippines” was awarded best performing non-IFAD-funded project.

A panel discussion with the Rome-Based Agencies (RBA) on the Coalition on Indigenous Peoples’ Food Systems was also organized. The session was chaired by Ms Lola García-Alix, IWGIA’s Senior Advisor on Global Governance. Speakers included His Excellency Miguel Jorge García-Winder, Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Mexico to the UN Agencies Based in Rome, Mr Darío José Mejía Montalvo, Mr Pallab Chakma, and representatives from each of the three RBAs. The discussion underlined the role that the coalition plays in protecting and strengthening Indigenous Peoples’ food systems across the world, and in disseminating and scaling up their traditional knowledge and good practices that have the potential to transform global food systems at large. While recognizing that Indigenous Peoples’ knowledge, practices and ways of living are key for sustainable food systems, it was noted that the benefits are only possible if Indigenous Peoples’ secure land tenure is prioritized. For this to happen, Indigenous Peoples’ meaningful engagement at all levels (including country-level dialogue), a partnership and concrete actions from the coalition are all needed.

The Forum was closed by Mr Dominik Ziller (Vice-President of IFAD), who reaffirmed IFAD’s commitment to make every effort to translate forum deliberations into meaningful, timely and concrete actions, and to implement the updated Policy on Engagement with Indigenous Peoples and the IPAF, culminating in an Indigenous ceremony.

Synthesis of deliberations

Based on the discussions and contributions from the debates, the Synthesis of Deliberations of the 2023[5] global meeting of the IFPI was adopted. It concluded with 20 recommendations addressed to IFAD, governments and Indigenous Peoples themselves as commitments.

In relation to the recognition and respect of Indigenous Peoples’ rights to land, territories and resources, the following two important recommendations were made:

  • The Forum recommended that IFAD country programmes integrate Indigenous Peoples’ values, land tenure, governance and knowledge systems, taking into account territorial planning and visioning cycles; and ensure that interventions do not disrupt Indigenous Peoples’ systems but rather strengthen and build on them.
  • Recommendations to governments: develop legislation, policies and programmes that protect and advance the rights of Indigenous Peoples and promote their effective implementation in coordination with their peoples, communities and organizations, by ensuring free prior and informed consent (FPIC), alignment with the UNDRIP, and the implementation of the updated IFAD Policy on Engagement with Indigenous Peoples. Furthermore, the Forum recommended recognizing and protecting the land rights and the integrity of Indigenous “territories of life” and promoting the implementation of self-determined development with the necessary technical, financial and institutional resources.

Governing council and other important events around and after IPFI

Change Cinema

On 2 February 2023, to raise awareness among IFAD staff on the upcoming forum and the struggles that Indigenous Peoples face, and in collaboration with the International Land Coalition (ILC), a Change Cinema event was organized. The documentary “The Illusion of Abundance”, co-directed by Erika González Ramírez and Matthieu Lietaert, was screened featuring three women’s human rights defenders from Latin America on the frontline of protecting their land and communities.

Private audience with His Holiness Pope Francis at the Holy See

On 10 February, a delegation of Indigenous Peoples’ representatives was received at the Holy See for a private audience with Pope Francis. On that occasion, Ms Myrna Cunningham was given the opportunity to read a letter addressed to the Pope on behalf of Indigenous Peoples participating in the forum. In the letter, Indigenous Peoples asked to join forces in the fight against injustice, to promote peace, and to build alternative models of development determined by Indigenous Peoples. The Pope stated that the global meeting offered an opportunity to recognize the fundamental role that Indigenous Peoples play in protecting the environment, and to highlight their wisdom in finding global solutions to the immense challenges that climate change poses to humanity.

IFAD Governing Council

On 14 February 2023, the Synthesis of Deliberations of the Indigenous Peoples’ Forum was delivered to the 46th session of the IFAD Governing Council by Ms Margaret Tunda Lepore (youth member of the IPFI Steering Committee). On the same day, Indigenous Peoples’ representatives participated in the Interactive Session on Indigenous Peoples’ Issues: Indigenous Peoples’ Climate Leadership, Holistic Perspective to Achieving Food Security and Nutrition.

Consultation on the 13th Replenishment of IFAD’s Resources

On 16 February 2023, Mr Pallab Chakma, member of the IPFI Steering Committee, delivered a statement on behalf of Indigenous Peoples at the first session of the Consultation on the 13th Replenishment of IFAD’s Resources (IFAD 13). The engagement of Indigenous Peoples’ representatives, together with youth and farmer organizations’ representatives, remained consistent throughout the three other sessions of IFAD 13 replenishment consultations.

Parallel session on equitable and inclusive land governance

IFAD co-organized a parallel session on “Equitable and Inclusive Land Governance” in June during the 2023 SDG 16 Conference, with the participation of ILC, Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), and the chair of the UNPFII. The outcomes of the conference[6] served as an input to the deliberations of the High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development in July and informed the preparations for the SDG Summit in September.



Ilaria Firmian is Senior Technical Specialist on Indigenous Peoples at the International Fund for Agricultural Development (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.)


This article is part of the 38th edition of The Indigenous World, a yearly overview produced by IWGIA that serves to document and report on the developments Indigenous Peoples have experienced. The photo above is of an Indigenous man harvesting quinoa in Sunimarka, Peru. This photo was taken by Pablo Lasansky, and is the cover of The Indigenous World 2024 where this article is featured. Find The Indigenous World 2024 in full here


Notes and references

[1] IFAD. “IFAD Policy on Engagement with Indigenous Peoples: 2022 update.” December 2022.

[2] IFAD. “Sixth Global Meeting of the Indigenous Peoples’ Forum.” 9,10 and 13 February 2023.

[3] IFAD. “Sixth Global Meeting of the Indigenous Peoples’ Forum. Summary Report Regional Consultation Meetings Indigenous Peoples’ climate leadership: community-based solutions to enhance resilience and biodiversity.”

[4] IFAD. “IFAD Indigenous Peoples Awards 2023.” February 2023.

[5] IFAD. “Indigenous Peoples’ Forum at IFAD. Synthesis of Deliberations.” 9,10 and 13 February 2023.

[6] International Law Development Organization (IDLO). “SDG 16 Conference 2023.”

Tags: Global governance, Climate, Human rights, Biodiversity, International Processes



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