Written by PhD student Hannah Case from the FoodBioSystems DTP


At a COP28 press conference organised by the Interethnic Association for the Development of the Peruvian Rainforest (AIDESEP), indigenous women from various communities shared their invaluable traditional knowledge and called for recognition and support in combating the climate crisis.

Indigenous women face disproportionate climate impacts. The panel for the AIDESEP press conference described the significant challenges faced by women in this context, with concerns ranging from heatwaves causing premature births to the imminent reduction of river water and hydrocarbon pollution, illegal activities such as mining and road construction and the contribution of deforestation that can hinder access to vital edible and medicinal plants.

Traditionally responsible for family, food and medicine security, these women are often overlooked in climate discussions, so it was reassuring to see them given a platform to voice their concerns and suggest plans for the future. The proposals, as part of the Indigenous Women’s Agenda by AIDESEP, emphasize the need for ongoing biodiversity conservation, food sovereignty, preservation of ancestral knowledge, youth participation, agroecological farming and women-centric adaptation plans. Participants in this press conference were: Graciela Reátegui, Federation of Native Communities of Ucayali and Tributaries President; Elaine Shajian, Regional Coordinator of Indigenous Peoples of San Lorenzo Preseident; as well as Nelsith Sangama and Tabea Casique, members of the board of directors of AIDESEP.  . The panel emphasised the historical reliance on natural medicines within their communities, passed down through generations. This ancestral knowledge is considered a crucial asset, embodying a way of life intricately tied to their territories. They shared the ongoing efforts in their respective territories, such as the promotion of indigenous women-led enterprises in the San Martín region, the establishment of comprehensive farms in the central Amazon, and the implementation of training workshops.

However, without an economic fund such initiatives led by indigenous women will be hard to sustain. Despite their pivotal role in preserving traditional wisdom, these women face challenges accessing funding opportunities, expressing the need for financial backing to promote their community’s products, preserve land cultivation techniques and ensure the preservation of their cultural heritage.

The press conference underscored the importance of recognising and valuing the expertise of indigenous women in climate discussions and within the wider scientific community. Outside of COP28, the breadth of knowledge that indigenous communities have preserved should be respected by traditional science and academia. There is space for an intersection of pharmaceutical chemistry and traditional medicine. Collaboration between scientists and indigenous women could aid research into natural active ingredients from plants, which, once identified, could be synthesised and brought to market, fostering connections between traditional wisdom and modern science. However, this can only be achieved ethically and with credit, acknowledgement and funding for the indigenous communities from which the knowledge originated.