Contributions to the conceptualization of the indigenous economy: Reflections from the FIA- 2018

Contributions to the conceptualization of the indigenous economy: Reflections from the FIA- 2018

With great success, the Indigenous Economy Forum FIA-2018 La selva moves, organized by the national indigenous organizations AIDESEP and CONAP implementing the Specific Dedicated Mechanism for Indigenous Peoples (MDE SAWETO Peru) with the support of WWF Peru as the National Executing Agency.

The event counted with the participation of leaders of indigenous organizations, indigenous entrepreneurs, businessmen, public officials and academics who spoke extensively about what the indigenous economy implies and its challenges. This article is an interpreted version of the author on the scope and challenges of the indigenous economy that emerge from the discussions of the FIA, but the comments made are his own responsibility. It has no other purpose than to contribute to this reflective and purposeful process on the indigenous economy, the configuration and final decisions of which legitimately correspond to the indigenous peoples themselves.

A first aspect that stands out is to specify on the nature of the discussion whether it is trying to define the conceptual scope of the indigenous economy or what it is trying to do is to see to what extent indigenous peoples are legitimately seeking to increase their sources of income. economic income beyond intellectual disquisitions. This precision is important because it leads us to the following approximations:

· Formulas are sought to insert into the globalized economy without further questioning the fundamental assumptions that sustain the hegemonic economy (which we can call capitalist, neoclassical or neoliberal).

· Formulas are being sought to articulate with the globalized economy, trying to incorporate some principles that incorporate some principles of indigenous culture (articulation with identity).

· Content, principles, attributes typical of an alternative indigenous economy to the essential postulates of the capitalist economy are sought.

From the FIA ​​discussion, it could be inferred that the representatives of the indigenous peoples would be placing themselves in the second approximation.

Now, what has been appreciated is that discussions about the indigenous economy cannot be treated in a polarized, binary or dichotomous way, but rather represents a complex phenomenon where it is possible to appreciate tensions, contradictions, paradoxes, ambiguities, fog and uncertainties. Therefore, it is not possible to advance in this discussion if a paradigmatic framework is not assumed from complex thinking. Any reductive way of approaching the subject fails to exhaust the subject in question.

Although it is clear that decisions about the indigenous economy correspond strictly to indigenous peoples, as is explicitly recognized in this article, the issue is that if this is a discussion in which multiple actors, sectors and processes can and should participate (as if was an open system) or is a topic whose discussion only corresponds to the direct representatives of indigenous peoples (as if it were a closed system). Systemic approaches tell us that it is not possible to stay in the logic of a closed system because all systems are always open. A system is always within another system and there are inter-influences between the interior of a system and its environment. It is interesting to note that the design of the FIA ​​was based on the logic of open systems where not only did men and women from indigenous trade union organizations, managers of indigenous economic enterprises, public officials, representatives of Non-Governmental Organizations, businessmen and academics participate. The fact of the participation of the Indigenous Chamber of Commerce is highlighted, which precisely achieves the confluence between the indigenous sector and the business sector.

As has been pointed out, the general spirit of the indigenous proposals alludes to the need to articulate with the globalized economy, trying to incorporate some principles that incorporate some principles of indigenous culture. Thus, for example, the representative of the Indigenous Chamber of Commerce points out that the indigenous economy proposal must take into account ancestral values ​​and approaches such as relationships, redistribution, reciprocity and responsibility. On the other hand, from the perspective of neoclassical economics, we find the following spectrum of possibilities:

· The defense at all costs of the neoliberal economic model as the perfect solution for the creation of wealth.

· A greening process of the neoliberal economy, taking note of the criticisms about the weak consideration of environmental and social aspects or, in any case, subordinating them to environmental dimensions (environmental economy, natural resource economy, green economy).

· A transformative revision process that seeks to modify or change the basic presuppositions of neoclassical economics (solidarity economy, blue economy, economy of the common good). We have the case, for example, of companies B.

The search for alternatives to the hegemonic economic model comes both from the very heart of the capitalist system or from other aspects such as ecological economics that it is precisely based on a strong criticism of the conventional development model that does not consider the economy as an entropic system.

In general, the variants of economic alternatives are located between proposals of weak sustainability or superficial ecology to proposals of strong sustainability or deep ecology (Arce, 2018a). Even within the capitalist system itself, the evaluation of the success of companies begins to overcome an exclusively profit-centered approach, an approach that begins to value the stories, the happy faces of the people to whom the efforts are directed, the conservation values, the support to entrepreneurial communities, among other aspects. Also within the capitalist system itself, trends of responsible purchases or valuation of companies that support indigenous peoples and the conservation of their forests are beginning to register in consumers. However, all this movement, which are basically business opportunities for indigenous peoples, it must be noted that these are market niches that cannot be generalized.

It should be noted, however, that despite all the criticism that the capitalist economy receives for paying exclusive attention to the direct actors of the transaction, to the appropriability, producible and salable and the social and environmental impacts that they cause due to their excessive weighting of the economic dimension, this is presented as very solid and attractive and a large sector of communities think that it is the path that must necessarily be followed if one wants to advance towards development. They argue that getting money now is an urgent matter because a dignified life is not possible if you do not have access to this means of exchange.

Now, the capitalist economy is oriented by individualism, materialism, consumerism and has its reason for being in accumulation. This collides with some of the characteristics of indigenous peoples that have traditionally been governed by collaborative relationships of solidarity and reciprocity, redistribution, and a close relationship with nature. These various perspectives conflict because on the one hand, there is a legitimate desire to have better income to improve the quality of life, but on the other hand it means reviewing, modifying or even eliminating some characteristics of indigenous peoples that are valid for a solidarity economy in the communities but that they present tensions in the framework of a capitalist economy. These situations generate anguish and many resolve it simply by trying to leave behind their own cultural traits and adopt the values ​​of the capitalist economy. For this reason, the need for the business development proposals of indigenous communities to have cultural relevance has been clearly mentioned, although for now it is strictly unknown how to do that.

The development of the capitalist economy has been largely sustained by the simplification of ecosystems in order to better manage them and make economies of scale. But the reality of many indigenous peoples is that their livelihoods rest on high biodiversity and socio-diverse conditions. The success of the hegemonic economic system is based on monocultures that have acceptance in the markets, while tropical forests present a very high biodiversity with the presence of high-quality nutraceutical products but that have no known or expanded market, which deters both governments and the indigenous people themselves contribute through diversity. This is the opposite of what a renowned Brazilian company that markets cosmetics has done by taking advantage of the biodiversity of forests and giving real opportunities to communities. That is why some of the most successful business initiatives of indigenous peoples are based on products such as coffee or cocoa and not so much on the goods and services provided by forests.

It means then that if you want to continue promoting the articulation of indigenous peoples to the globalized economy, it would have to be done from products that already have markets. In this way, the worldview that development is associated with the simplification of ecosystems continues to be legitimized. In other words, transforming biodiversity through agro-exports so that is what makes money, not the forest. However, this perspective, which is legitimate, clashes with the recognition that the loss of forests is a key factor in climate change. For this reason, the world is beginning to worry more seriously about the necessary conservation of tropical forests because of the fundamental role it plays in the global climate system. The question here is whether the indigenous economy should develop with the forests or at the expense of the forests. The other question is: Is it possible to develop an indigenous economy based on the management of the ecosystem services of forests? More and more evidence appears that it is better to work in favor of nature and not against it.

A crucial issue in the indigenous economy refers to the territories. As is widely known, territorial rights are enshrined as collective rights of indigenous peoples. It is always mentioned that the territories are constitutive of the very life of the indigenous peoples. However, in the FIA ​​the idea has slipped that a condition for indigenous peoples to be able to better articulate with the markets would be to “make more flexible” the concept of the territories, which would mean, it is inferred, the possibility of other figures as recognition privately owned. What is known in practice is that there are forms of renting communal lands, inviting third parties to use or exploit resources. This is something that deserves to be deepened and clarified.

Another crucial issue refers to associative behavior in communities and between communities. What is known is that within the communities not everyone is involved in collective undertakings and therefore there are interest groups that are those who assume the conduct of economic undertakings. It is also known that production within the community corresponds to a “private” behavior and collective tasks of a social nature correspond to a community character. Now, the associations between communities or between producers would be working as it can be seen from the successful Asháninka undertaking for the production of chocolates and derivatives (Kemito Ene is an association made up of 376 coffee and cocoa producers, 83 of whom are women) and the very existence of the Indigenous Chamber of Commerce made up of 26 associations. Organizational capacity is a crucial condition to be able to articulate to highly demanding markets in quality and production volumes. However, it should be considered that there are market niches for which the scales of production are no longer relevant and what matters is the quality of the products associated with concepts (conservation of forests, support for entrepreneurial indigenous communities, opportunities for women , among others).

Issues that deserve special attention refer to the ability to establish alliances and financing. The Kemito Ene case was made possible by initial cooperative support fostered by the hard-working spirit of the partners and the quality of indigenous leadership. In the forestry area, associations with third parties have not always been favorable and there is a heavy burden of fines to be assumed as a result of asymmetric relationships (Arce, 2018b; Arce, 2018c). At the union level, the fact that AIDESEP and CONAP are working together in favor of options for the full life of the Amazonian indigenous peoples is excellent evidence of associative strength.

Additionally, it should be considered that governments have never (or almost never) been concerned with promoting an indigenous development model that is respectful of the culture and rights of indigenous peoples. Rather, a logic of integration or assimilation prevails and modernity is associated with the fact of turning them into citizens, consumers and producers from the logic of ascription to the hegemonic economic system. A development model has not been proposed that values ​​the rich biodiversity of tropical forests and from the cultural values ​​of socio-diversity. As we know, this has been a constant source of conflict. Although MINAM is trying to make the rich potential of Amazonian biodiversity products part of sustainable productive options for communities, starting from the production of superfoods from biodiversity, the gap is still large.

It is also important to recognize the degree of insertion of communities into markets. This is how we find pre-market communities, communities in transition, and communities articulated to the market (with high, medium and low articulation). There are conditions that are fatal to production costs unless progress is made in value-added products. For this reason, it is important to recognize that not everything is export and that there is a need to recognize degrees of articulation with regional and local markets. From this perspective, it is not always necessary to have international certifications but there is also the possibility of developing regional or even local certifications. It is also possible to think of other options such as appellations of origin or collective marks. The important thing in all cases is to achieve quality.

It means then that the antagonistic categories of capitalist and non-capitalist economies begin to dilute as there are mutual influences. We recognize in this game the dynamics of order and chaos, interchangeable categories depending on where the observer is located. While it is being thought that if forests do not give money and it is better to convert them to other productive options, it is found that the world turns towards considering that the future lies in its forest and its people, as José Álvarez of MINAM asserted.

Finally, point out the opportunities for forests according to José Álvarez: i) commitment of large multinationals to sustainability, ii) Amazonian fruits against malnutrition and poverty, iii) abundant species for cosmetic use, and iv) culturally relevant family bio-businesses and friendly to the forest. Added to the great biodiversity of tropical forests is the richness of their socio-diversity (where women play a leading role) with ancestral knowledge and knowledge.

This is just a beginning and other spaces are envisioned in which the indigenous economy will continue to be debated. An important reference is that offered by the Inter-American Institute of Human Rights (2007).

By: Rodrigo Arce Rojas

Cited bibliography:

Arce, Rodrigo. (2018a). Economies, alternative economies and sustainability. [SERVINDI] (Online). Available at:

Arce, Rodrigo. (2018b). Approaches to forest justice. Available at:

Arce, Rodrigo. (2018c). Legality in the forestry sector. Available at:

Inter-American Institute of Human Rights (2007). Indigenous economy and market / Inter-American Institute of Human Rights. -San José, C.R .: IIHR. Available at:

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