(AGRO)BIODIVERSITY IN RESISTANCE: INDIGENOUS AND AFRO-DESCENDANT TERRITORIAL RIGHTS VIA ENVIRONMENTAL GOVERNANCE IN THE AMERICAS
In the face of climate change, arable land loss, and food system degradation, Indigenous and Afro-Descendant communities are frontline groups leading agrobiodiversity conservation. Their work has often gone unrecognized at national and international policy levels; across the Americas they face increasing threats and violence as they defend their environments and food systems. Despite this, these communities have still implemented significant legal protections and policy solutions for agrobiodiversity and environmental conservation. To this end, my dissertation asks: how do territorially-based communities – including Indigenous peoples, Afro-Descendent peoples, and peasant farmers/land workers – create and adapt formalized legal protections for their communities and environments? Specifically, how do territorial claims embedded in agrobiodiversity practices lead to formalized community-rights protections? This research engages qualitative mixed methods, including discourse analysis of policies, manifestos, and archival documents; historical process tracing; and semi-structured interviews. My cases are with 1) Parque de la Papa in Andean Peru, 2) Los Riscales Afro-Colombian Community Council in the Tribugá Gulf of Colombia, 3) The Community System for Biodiversity (SICOBI) in Oaxaca, Mexico, and 4) the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians (ECBI) in the Appalachian Mountains of the United States. I find that the Indigenous and Afro-Descendant communities in these specific case sites use strategic partnerships with local NGOs and state institutions to foster narratives that support their legitimate and legal rights to decision-making authority over their local environments. They do this through translating Indigenous and Afro-Descendant cosmovisions and ontologies into legal discourses, primarily through the lens of biocultural rights. This highlights ways in which communities not only contest, but also use and adapt tools and strategies of neoliberalism and neocolonialism to legitimize and advance their rights in legal spaces. I also find that partnerships with specific NGOs create a very real safety buffer between them and states or other extractive actors that seek to dominate their territories. In many ways, the NGO becomes an intermediary, a translator of community demands to regional, national, or even global dialogues. These frameworks not only help ensure legal protections for their own territories and agrobiodiversity, but also shape environmental policy itself. This research contributes to re-thinking and re-imagining biodiversity governance and food sovereignty in the current era of climatic and food crises, as well as contributing to knowledge on the intersections of identity, indigeneity, conservation, and food systems.
Committee chairGarrett Graddy-Lovelace
Committee member(s)Jonathan Fox; Malini Ranganathan
Degree disciplineInternational Relations
Degree grantorAmerican University. School of International Service