Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific

Time to pay closer attention to our traditional agricultural systems

Experts from 18 Asia-Pacific countries identify local and national best agricultural heritage practices for further promotion

Bangkok, Thailand, 12 Nov 2013 -- While new technology continues to improve agricultural production, it is critical that policy makers in Asia and the Pacific pay closer attention to existing traditional systems of agriculture. 

These systems, originated and perfected through the wisdom of our ancestors, are as applicable today as ever before. Indeed we still have much to learn from them and share with each other. But in the rush to modernize some of these traditions are at risk of disappearing. 

In 2002, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations launched the Globally Important Agricultural Heritage Systems (GIAHS), an international partnership initiative that aims to identify, complement and safeguard important hereditary agricultural systems, the livelihoods, agricultural and associated biodiversity, landscapes, knowledge systems and cultures that they support. Worldwide, 26 GIAHS sites have been approved by the FAO.

In Asia and the Pacific, the number of GIAHS endorsements is set to increase. Four countries in the region, China, India, Japan and the Philippines have already gained GIAHS endorsement. Government officials and experts from a further 14 Asia-Pacific countries, gathered in Bangkok, are examining these systems and proposing their own best hereditary practices while examining the criteria for future GIAHS endorsement. 

The event has been convened by the FAO Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific and is hosted by the Royal Thai Government. "The FAO's global initiative has fostered an integrated approach combining sustainable agriculture and rural development for food security, biodiversity and sustainable development," said Chalit Damrongsak, Deputy Permanent Secretary, from Thailand's Ministry for Agriculture and Cooperatives. "Considering the importance of GIAHS, we believe this regional orientation workshop is very timely." 

"Worldwide, 1.4 billion people, mostly family farmers and indigenous communities provide 30-50 percent of food consumed in the developing world," said Masahito Enomoto, FAO's Deputy Director of Plant Production and Protection and the GIAHS global coordinator.

"The millions of smallholders, family farmers, and indigenous peoples practicing resource-conserving farming, is testament to the remarkable resiliency of these agro-eco systems in the face of continuous environmental and economic change," said Hiroyuki Konuma, FAO's Assistant Director-General and Regional Representative for Asia and the Pacific. "Promoting GIAHS is an extremely important undertaking in promoting a network of countries and people to share the impacts and values of the initiative and strengthen our concerted efforts to ensure food for all and eradicate poverty and hunger from the planet."

Yet despite their importance, small holders and their achievements are often neglected, as is the existing and potential role of women in these systems. "Distorted investment policies" driven by the "green revolution and intensification" of agricultural systems have taken precedent over land rehabilitation and water conservation, said Parviz Koohafkan, President of the World Agriculture Heritage Foundation. "Government and policy must be conducive in connecting these (smallholder) famers to markets." Promoting and raising awareness nationally and globally is seen as a way of achieving the change required.

The GIAHS endorsed systems in Asia and the Pacific include practices such as an ancient practice of cultivating rice below sea level in India and ecologically efficient rice, fish and forestry systems in China, Japan and the Philippines.  
The participants are considering the establishment of a regional partnership and the "twinning" of programme sites to increase awareness. Promoting sustainability and conservation by increasing the premium of these products and services through branding and labeling is seen as a positive way forward, and would empower small scale farmers and local communities through recognition of their agricultural heritage.