RESPONSIBLE TECHNICAL DIVISION
Land and Water Development Division
Land and Plant Nutrition Management Service
This paper has been prepared based on a concept and drawing on material developed by Parviz Koohafkan, Chief of the Land and Plant Nutrition Management Service (AGLL). Ms. Sally Bunning (AGLL), Mr. Jean Bedel (consultant) and Mr. David Boerma (AGLL) and the stakeholders and experts who participated in the Stakeholder Workshop of the GIAHS project held in Rome, August 2002, further contributed to the elaboration of this concept. The case studies were provided by Mr. Jose Furtado (Rice-Fish), Ms. Aude Verwilghen (Oases and Wayana) and David Boerma (Maasai). The material was summarized and assembled into the present paper by David Boerma with the assistance of Aude Verwilghen (consultant).
Agricultural genetic resources are the result of farmers’ careful selection of outstanding varieties of plants and animals, as well as co-adaptation among plants, animals and humans, under specific agro-ecological conditions. The conservation in situ of genetic resources for food and agriculture cannot be achieved outside dynamic farming systems and local human cultures in which these resources were developed. Following years of international consultations, with a view to protecting some of the most relevant farming systems that hold important genetic resources, including some that are particularly at risk, FAO in 2002 launched a FAO/UNDP-GEF project to support Globally Important Ingenious Agricultural Heritage Systems (GIAHS). The project seeks to promote the international recognition, conservation and sustainable management of these systems-including where necessary their revitalisation-and the support of the outstanding role these systems play in household food security and in the maintenance of agricultural biodiversity, as well as their contribution to natural, landscape and cultural heritage and indigenous knowledge systems.
GIAHS, and their associated agro-ecosystems and landscapes, have been created, shaped, maintained and passed between generations of farmers, herders, forest dwellers and fisher-folk. Based on diverse species and their interactions, and the use of locally adapted, distinctive and often ingenious combinations of management practices and techniques, they have contributed, and continue to contribute, to sustaining and enriching globally significant agricultural biodiversity, resilient ecosystems, and valuable cultural heritage. Moreover, such systems ensure the sustained provision of multiple goods and services, food and livelihood security, and quality of life for people.
Globally Important Ingenious Agricultural Heritage Systems are defined as:
Remarkable Land Use Systems and landscapes which are rich in biological diversity evolving from the ingenious and dynamic adaptation of a community/population to its environment and the needs and aspirations for sustainable development.
GIAHS throughout the world testify to the inventiveness and ingenuity of people in their use and management of biodiversity, inter-species dynamics, and the physical attributes of the landscape, codified in traditional but evolving knowledge, practices and technologies. This ingenuity has resulted in well-balanced agro-ecological systems in marginal, extreme or very specific ecologies, which could not otherwise have sustainably supported human life and agro-biodiversity at its present high level. These systems are organized and managed through highly adapted social and cultural practices and institutions.
Such systems, however, often face great threats and challenges in evolving and adapting to economic change and new and sometimes inappropriate policy environments, particularly in the contexts of land tenure, environmental change and globalization. To survive, they must also adapt their productive capacity to meet the rising expectations of their members, in terms of food security and quality of life.
At all scales, from household to global, diversity is a survival factor in the face of uncertainties, economic or environmental changes, hazards, shocks or disasters. The several kinds of diversity cannot be safeguarded or preserved in isolation, as in an archive, gene bank or museum, but only within living, evolving livelihood systems. Examples of GIAHS might include multi-storied home gardens, oases, certain rice-fish systems, qanat1-based orchards and gardens in arid areas, agro-forestry or transhumance livestock systems.
The GIAHS concept recognizes and is centred on the profound inter-relatedness of biodiversity, agriculture, ecology, culture and social organization and institutions, ethics, local livelihoods and food security. The programme aims to safeguard the continued co-evolution of these elements. This integrated ecosystem approach builds on existing indigenous knowledge, practices, customs and institutions for the management of agricultural systems, in ways that are socially, economically and culturally appropriate to the identity, needs and aspirations of farming communities.
The underlying strategy of the programme is to avoid or reverse the loss or degradation of the resilience and the essential features and attributes of these systems-especially their biodiversity-while allowing their necessary evolution and at the same time enhancing the socio-economic development of resource users, as well as national and global benefits. The programme firstly attempts to mitigate threats to the resilience of GIAHS, by supporting farmers’ and their communities’ capacities to continue to sustainably manage these systems, with the involvement of national governments, scientists and other stakeholders. It also seeks to support these communities and their governments in developing appropriate legal and policy environments and instruments, conducive to their continued existence, and which allow for their evolution and development. The programme offers an opportunity to build, in a step-by-step way, cooperation amongst communities that effectively manage their rich in situ heritages, in a sustainable development context, including through the exchange of experience, knowledge and technologies.
GIAHS have an array of value elements or benefits, both local and national or global, which is much wider than the immediate economic return, including an array of social, cultural, environmental and food security and risk management benefits. The aim of GIAHS is, in todays’ local and global context, to identify ways to support their continued biodiversity conservation, sustainability and productivity. Promoting knowledge and understanding of GIAHS and wide recognition of their benefits, particularly positive externalities, may be enough to help some of these systems survive.
Some GIAHS may need more specific support, for example through brand creation and promotion, and the development of niche markets for certain produce, or through the creation of institutions that enable returns to communities for environmental services that are by-products of their land-use system. Other GIAHS may need enabling legal and policy environments that allow for their maintenance and socio-economic (self-) sustainability. There may even be some that will be served by more classical sustainable development initiatives that lift barriers and address root causes of the threats they face.
The case studies presented here are examples of GIAHS, which may be included in a group of 10 initial systems2 on which a further programme methodology will be developed. The ingenuity of GIAHS, which are almost invariably based on high levels of agricultural biodiversity, often lies in the adaptive management of bio-physical, economic or socio-cultural resources that have evolved under specific ecological and socio-economic constraints and opportunities. In these contexts, the ingenious management of such systems has developed on the levels (social organization, soil and water management, biodiversity, knowledge transfer, etc.) which are most appropriate and efficient. These case studies demonstrate the different levels at which the ingenious management of such systems can be found, as well as the various services that these systems provide.
An oasis can be defined as an agrarian system; an "area where irrigation is necessary and the farming system is highly productive, with the omnipresence of date palm". Their ingenuity is due to the human interactions that shape and influence the agro-ecosystem, and in turn provide many ecological and social services. In effect, an oasis is more than a site of agricultural production. Historically, it is a crossing point and a place of life, of rest, of leisure, of conquest. Thus, it is a complex system with agronomic, ecological, economic, social, political and strategic dimensions. Oases are the inheritance of ancient agricultural civilizations. The Gafsa oasis, for instance, dates back to the Capsian civilization, a Mesolithic culture from 8400 years BC.
The ingenious management of the system through high levels of biodiversity
The management of biodiversity in oases is inherited from adapted, rich and diversified indigenous knowledge systems. These show evidence of the efforts that have been made by successive generations in order to maintain a fragile balance in an environment with severe constraints. Species and varieties are carefully chosen as to be adapted to local environmental constraints. For instance, there is a prevalence of the olive tree in the periphery of oases because of its drought resistance, and the Degla date palms are preferentially planted in southwest Tunisia where climatic conditions are favourable for fructification, whereas common date palm varieties are more frequent in coastal areas. There is an intensive occupation of space for the optimum use of water resources and their functions in regulation of the oasis microclimate, for the maximization of harvest security by producing plants that provide multiple products and through carefully diversified production spacing and timing (cropping pattern and rotation). The latter is done with a three-level system, which includes date palm, arboriculture, annual and pluriannual plants and crops (vegetables, fodder, ornamental plants, etc.) and a high density of species and varieties. The management practices and techniques reveal ingenuity of local population in using biodiversity, for instance in terms of crop management (plantation, pollen transfer and thinning techniques, biological control of pests and diseases, etc.) and irrigation techniques (plant resilience to dought and water reserve in soil, management of and adaptation to salt, sand and wind).
An intensive, diversified and multi-purpose plant production system
The constraining environment and the opportunity and climatological requirement of irrigation leads to a necessary intensification and diversification. The growing of different crops in space and time allows oasis communities to meet the essential needs for human consumption: food, energetic, domestic (building, crafts, etc.), and medicinal requirements. The surplus production is sold in the market and there is a trend to increasing cultivation of cash crops in order to generate income.
In terms of agricultural biodiversity, a large diversity of species and cultivars is planted in oasis agro-ecosystems, with numerous adapted local varieties resulting from meticulous breeding and transmitted from one generation to another. Tunisia has a high qualitative richness for date palm, with numerous very rare varieties and an important percentage of endemism, especially in coastal and mountain oases. There is a very high varietal diversity; for instance, in El Hamma oasis, 55 varieties have been listed. In Tunisia, there are 260 cultivars - named common varieties- of date palm and nameless varieties coming from seedlings, which represent an important potential for future selection. A large number of other species of fruits, vegetables, condiments, fodder, ornamental plants, etc. can also be found in oases, with numerous local varieties. For instance, the local varieties of fig tree: Assal Boutchich, apricot tree: Mechmech Arbi, olive oil tree: Chemchali from El Casba. Furthermore, oasis agro-ecosystems provide habitat and resources for numerous wild species of fauna and flora.
Livestock raising in the strict oasis area is limited to a few individuals of sheep, goats, donkeys and/or camels. This is functional to the system by providing for food (meat, milk), transport (poeple, agricultural produce, etc.) and manure (soil amendment).
Global changes: threats to the continued viability and sustainability of traditional oasis
The focus on productivity and profitability, the effects of integration in the global market and cash economy (e.g. growing hegemony of a unique date variety, the Degla) and the abuse of modern technology (e.g. expansion of drilling and modernization of irrigation systems, which lead to permanent depletion of underground water sources) contriute to the rapid degradation of oasis systems. They are leading to standardization and specialization, with the consequential depreciation and destabilization of the traditional oasis system. These integrated and complex agro-ecosystems, in terms of the multiplicity and inter-dependence of components, the high ecological interactions, the rich and diversified knowledge and management practices have a highly fragile balance. Oases are havens of agricultural biodiversity in a constraining environment, and their degradation is synonymous with high genetic erosion.
Rice-fish farming systems form some of the most striking agricultural landscapes of the world. They have a variety of local designs adapted for cultural, environmental and economic attributes. Those complex and inter-dependent agro-ecosystems are using ecological services, such as biological control and N-fixation as well as landscape integration to ameliorate some persistent failures of elements of the system. Moreover, traditional and low intensity rice-fish systems play an important role in safeguarding the global environment, notably from a biodiversity perspective. Rice-fish systems support and are in turn supported by a large diversity of cultures and their associated institution for the management of these systems.
A large diversity of agro-ecosystems
Rice is the dominant staple crop of tropical Asia. It has a long history of domestication and a rich diversity of cultivated ecotypes based on three varieties of Oryza sativa: indica, japonica and javanica, which are cultivated in different agro-ecological zones for their differing growth, grain and yield characteristics. There are four basic rice agro-ecosystems each with peculiar edaphic conditions: irrigated ecosystems, upland (terraces) and lowland rainfed ecosystems, and flood-prone (very deep water) ecosystems.
Fish culture can be concurrent (mixed) or rotational with rice, at different intensities. This case considers traditional (capture) and low-intensity culture (no fertilizer, no feed) systems, as they enhance many ecological services. Moreover, those systems are less risky for the resource-poor farmers than intensive fish farming, because of their efficiency derived from synergisms, their diversity of produce and their environmental soundness.
An integrated system with complex interactions
There is a combined use of habitat and resources for rice and fish. A rich variety of direct and mainly indirect beneficial effects emanate from the interactions between the different elements of the rice-fish agro-ecosystem, enhancing grain and fish production and contributing to the dynamism of the system. For example, rice provides shade for fish, organic matter produced by rice is used by fish, water oxygenation by fish and nutrient recycling benefit rice, biological inter-dependencies provide biological pest control (for example, predation on insects and pests by fish) and N-fixation by Azolla spp. for rice. Rice-fish systems are often based on and regulated by complex and highly diverse food webs of microbe, insects and their predators. However, many indirect non-beneficial effects are exacerbated by intensification of rice-fish production.
Global importance in term of food production and environmental issues
The rice-fish systems are globally important in terms of food production. The integration of fish in rice farming systems provides invaluable protein and fatty acids, especially for subsistence farmers managing rain-fed systems. They are also important in terms of the three global environmental issues: climate change (emission of greenhouse gas in rice fields is determined by farming practices, plant metabolism and soil properties; rain-fed systems tend to contributed less emissions than irrigated systems), shared waters (retaining flood waters in shared catchments and river basins) and biodiversity.
From a biodiversity perspective, rice-fish farming systems contain:
Many rain-fed rice-fish farming systems are under threat by (excessive) application of chemicals, particularly pesticides, either through modernization of the systems themselves or as the result of negative externalities of upstream agricultural systems. Pesticides mainly destroy the fragile food webs that underpin the rice-fish systems, but they also endanger the fish and human health directly. In some regions rice-fish systems have to cope with increasing population pressures in systems which are already at the maximum of their productive capacity, leading to unsustainable agricultural practices and migration.
The way of life and the production system of Amerindians represent the accumulated experiences of humankind closely interacting with their environment over centuries. The farming system of Wayana society is based on shifting cultivation, with a high agricultural biodiversity. Here agriculture is part of an array of activities taking place within various habitats where Wayana obtain a significant portion of their subsistence requirements through gathering, fishing and hunting. In fact, there is no clear limit between the cultivated and the wild area, which thus can be considered as a single agro-ecosystem.
Cassava: a high varietal diversity for a species of major importance in Amerindian culture
Many crops and multiple varieties of each crop are cultivated on a parcel, supporting both intra-specific and inter-specific diversity. This strategy of minimizing risk by cultivating a diversity of crops and varieties in space and time enhances harvest security and promotes diet diversity.
The central crop of the farming system is cassava (Manihot esculenta), followed by sweet potato (Ipomea batatas). Many other plants are also cultivated, for instance: banana (Musa sapientum), sugar cane (Saccharum officinarum), maize (Zea mays), yam (Dioscorea trifida, D. Bulbifera), water melon (Citrillus lanatus) and several Cucurbitaceae, cotton (Gossypium barbadense), pineapple (Ananas comosus), dasheen (Colocasia antiquorum), cocoyam (Xanthosoma sp.), lima bean (Phaseolus lunatus) and cucumber (Cucumis sativus).
The Wayana are using and conserving many cultivars of cassava and to a lesser extent of sweet potato. During household surveys, respectively 70 and 13 different cultivars were named. Cassava is at the root of food consumption and products stemmed from processing are numerous, such as cassava (a sort of “pancake” used like bread), couac (flour), tapioca (to make sauce) or cachiri (bier). Cachiri, made from cassava mixed with sweet potato, is a drink of fundamental importance in Wayana culture. There are several types of cachiri depending on the varieties of cassava and sweet potato used. The diversity of product processing is based on diversity of species and cultivars, and therefore the associated cultural practices and knowledge system in many ways sustain this high varietal diversity.
Inter-relations between the cultivated area and adjacent ecosystem
A number of ecological interactions and ecosystem properties emerge from such diversified spatial and temporal crop arrangements. By enhancing plant diversity in the cultivated area, the system provides alternative habitat and food sources for many organisms that perform various beneficial ecological functions. In the same way, agricultural-natural ecosystem interfaces are of key significance and general ecological services are accrued by natural vegetation growing near the cultivated plot. Many plants within or around traditional cropping systems are wild or weedy relatives of crops. In fact, farmers often favour certain weeds in or around their fields that have positive effects on soil and crops such as soil improvement and pest repellents, or that serve as food, medicines, ceremonial items, etc.
Many indigenous peoples of the Americas are highly integrated in their surrounding environment of which they feel they are part. There is a very close relationship between humans and nature. In the same way, there is no clear frontier between the domesticated and the wild, between the cultivated area and the surrounding forest. For instance, fallow areas are visited many years after abandoning them, to collect products (for instance fruits, or cassava tubers for more recent fallow) and plant material (in situ conservation of cassava genetic resources). They are sometimes also planted with fruit trees to attract game for hunting. On the other hand, wild plants in the forest are sometimes favoured in order to enhance production of non-wood forest products (fruits, bark or leaves for medicinal use, etc.) for further gathering.
Clearly, traditional agriculture commonly encompasses the multiple uses of both natural and artificial ecosystems, thus it appears that crop production plots and adjacent ecosystems are de facto integrated into a single ingenious agro-ecosystem.
As many other forest dwelling indigenous peoples, the Wayana are fragile to external influences. Timber production, the construction of roads and mining activities, lead to destruction or loss of access to resources, as well as to rapid social, cultural and economic changes which are difficult to manage for these communities. In many cases the introduction of new diseases has posed severe threats to these communities. Also endogenic changes pose challenges to these communities and their production systems, including through the changing preferences and expectations of their members.
The history of Maasai pastoralism is closely intertwined with the evolution of the savannah and highland landscapes of southern Kenya and northern Tanzania. These landscapes are world-renouned for their stunning views and rich wildlife. Tourist revenues from these areas benefit the national economies of the countries involved as well as private tourism companies all over the world. What is often overlooked, when policies are designed and implemented in these areas, is that these landscapes and their wildlife habitats were shaped over centuries by the knowledge, intensive and highly flexible nomadic pastoral strategy of the Maasai community.
The ecological rationale of an opportunistic strategy
The pastoral strategy is highly adaptive to the space and temporal fluctuations of the environment. By moving around herds of cattle, resources (pasture, water, salt) are used where and when they are most available. All habitats are used and there is no functional distinction between wild and agricultural lands. The Maasai have a complex strategy of customary arrangements to commonly manage and use these resources based on their extensive knowledge of the savannah and highland ecosystem. Their settlement patterns and associated social organization are built on the need to spread resource use over a large area to avoid concentration of livestock and consequent over-grazing. Their grazing strategies and burning techniques have turned bushland into pasture and controlled pests, thus also creating a habitat and food source for large wild grazers and their predators. In many ways the abundance of wildlife in these systems is largely due to the pastoral strategy. Over-grazing is sometimes wilfully applied to open up bush-invaded pasture again. The Maasai adjust their herd composition and size to the availability and carrying capacity of certain areas and availability of water (for example: dark cows get warmer in the sun and drink more!).
The human rationale of an opportunistic strategy
The Maasai manage to cope well with the great fluctuations of the environment (seasons, droughts), making the entire system more resilient and sustainable, while providing for their own food and livelihood needs. Their customary institutions for resource access ensure equitable use of resources, with high levels of reciprocity and social security for those who suffer misfortune, whilst being flexible to adjust to environmental circumstances. The many and complex exchanges of cattle taking place provide not only for a rich genetic diversity of cattle in each herd, but serve also as a social strategy to deal with hardship. The genetic heritage of cows is administrated through burning marks on cows, which also have many social, religious and artistic functions. Other users (ethnic groups, including agriculturists and hunter-gatherer groups) are allowed to live and use resources on Maasai territory, which is beneficial for the exchange of goods and services between social groups and livelihood systems, but this is also a potential source of conflict in times of scarcity.
The knowledge base of pastoralism
The Maasai have an intense practical experience and rich knowledge of their environment and the ecological relations between various areas, which is accrued by moving around over large areas and passed on over many generations. They have a vast knowledge of plants and their food and medicinal purposes (human and animal), as well as of animal behaviour. This is borne from the necessity to be able to move their cattle safely through various areas and make use of the resources available in these areas, as they cannot be brought along whilst moving. This knowledge is safeguarded and passed on through many cultural institutions and expressions. One of the them is the considerable freedom of children to move around and discover their environment. Another crucial socio-cultural institution is the stage of warriorhood for young men, now highly in decline. This 3-7 year period combines intensive education by elders in livestock, ecology, social values, justice and leadership, with challenges, rituals and a “military service”. The young warriors are expected to take care of themselves and to provide for their needs without the care of their mothers, challenging them to acquire knowledge of animals and plants and their uses, and building social networks with people outside their families. There are also many stories, jokes, sayings, riddles and other cultural expressions that convey knowledge of the environment and social values for the appropriate use thereof.
When British colonialists first arrived in the Rift Valley they perceived its landscape as a wild habitat. The presence of people and cattle was considered a threat to the landscape and its wildlife. Their background in a sedentary culture made them fail to see the inter-connections and rationale of the nomadic strategy and its role in creating and maintaining the landscape. They also failed to see the resource use efficiency of the pastoral systems when viewed from a larger space-temporal scale than the agricultural zone for a single all-year-around use. Many of these perceptions persist today. Wildlife conservationists and land use planners who are trained in land zoning and planning for a single use, continue to have rigid perceptions of how land and resources should be managed in space and time, with a clear separation of “wild” and “agricultural use” areas. This has consequences for policies, resource access legislation, institutional arrangements for land management and delivery of services, causing great disturbances to the pastoral-ecological dynamics, and the culture and social organization that underpins the system. These perceptions are materialized largely in land tenure legislation by creating restrictions to livestock movement, loss of access to key areas and resources, and subsequent and sometimes deliberate erosion of the culture of the Maasai. This in turn has negative effects on the capacity to deal with ecological risk, causing a decline in food and livelihood security, but also increasingly on wildlife abundance, through invasion of bush and pests on the shared habitats of livestock and wildlife. Many customary institutions for land management and access to resources have been delegitimized and/or replaced. Also, the open system of resource use is not sufficiently safeguarded against agricultural settlers (due to population pressures outside the system) and land grabbing through corruption, which are both threats of a growing magnitude. HIV/AIDS is also an increasing problem, causing loss of leadership, parental care, labour force and knowledge.
Level of ingenious management
The Maasai pastoral system displays resource management ingenuity in their system of generation and transfer, customary laws for access and use of resources, their social benefit and risk-sharing arrangements and their opportunistic management of ecological space and temporal dynamics.
The Maasai pastoral-ecological system provides many food, livelihood, social and ecosystem services. Its efficient use is of local, national and global importance for its use efficiency when measured on the space- temporal scale of entire systems (not necessarily of each separate sub-system), its knowledge of biodiversity and ecological dynamics, its unique and rich livestock genetic resources and its cultural heritage, its contribution to landscapes and associated wildlife that generate tourist revenue and its contribution to food security and risk management.
The GIAHS programme was launched in August 2002 at a first stakeholder workshop. This workshop achieved a better and common understanding among partners and a more articulated profile of the GIAHS concept. More importantly, it developed a set of criteria and indicators for the selection of ten pilot sites for the second (PDF-B) phase of the programme. On these pilot sites action programmes will be developed for their support as well as for the development of a further methodology for the programme stages that will follow. Presently, the GIAHS team is developing the PDF-B project proposal and further developing the criteria and a consultative procedure for the selection of the ten pilot sites. FAO and its partners are soliciting proposals for GIAHS candidate systems and are inviting new partners to join the initiative.
The GIAHS programme is implemented by FAO in close collaboration and partnership with selected member countries, representatives of local communities and indigenous peoples. Partners include UNDP, UNESCO, ICCROM, WHC, UNEP, CGIARs, IUCN, NGOs and other international institutions, universities, private sector and civil society organizations, as well as interested donors. At the first stakeholder workshop an international Steering Committee was formed that includes project partners, donors, NGOs, other UN Agencies, CGIAR centres, and will in the future include other stakeholders as well, such as governments and indigenous peoples. Technically the programme is supported in FAO by an inter-departmental task force and internationally by a technical advisory body consisting of a broad range of stakeholders and experts.
Selection of systems and sites will be done on the basis of biophysical, socio-cultural, economic, and programme criteria. Their relative global, national and local importance will be taken into account. The comparative importance of the criteria and indicators cutting across social, ecological and economic aspects are considered the primary ones. The GIAHS programme focuses on the linkages among the socio-cultural and the biophysical-factors rather than viewing them in isolation; it should also include the national policy environment in its considerations. Equitable sharing of the benefits of these systems at different scales is also considered important. Land tenure gender equity and sensitivity to indigenous and community issues are among the criteria for system and site selection.
To widen the sampling frame of GIAHS candidates and to build on related and field- tested methodologies of existing initiatives and candidate systems sites for the selection process, it was suggested that the GIAHS initiative would link into ongoing initiatives by GEF and other partner projects that address closely related issues, such as: the People Land Management and Environmental Change (PLEC) project, the in situ conservation activities of IPGRI and UNESCO’s Man and the Biosphere (MAB) and World Heritage programmes.
The selection and valuation of systems will be done by devising a participatory process, to ensure the inclusion of the perspectives, knowledge and values of the different stakeholders. The final selection will be decided by the Steering Committee.
1 Horizontal, tunnel-type well
2 The GIAHS (FAO/UNDP-GEF) project will focus mainly on systems in low-income, food-deficit countries, where GIAHS are largely subsistence oriented.