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Frequently Asked Questions

1. What does GIAHS stand for and what are GIAHS?

GIAHS stands for “Globally Important Agricultural Heritage Systems”.

GIAHS are defined as "Remarkable land use systems and landscapes which are rich in globally significant biological diversity evolving from the co-adaptation of a community with its environment and its needs and aspirations for sustainable development".

2. When was the GIAHS concept formulated?

FAO presented GIAHS as a Partnership Initiative on the occasion of the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD, Johannesburg, 2002) and benefited from the Project Development Facility (PDF) of the Global Environmental Facility (GEF) for initial conceptualization and subsequent funding of the Full Scale Project Implementation. Main partners include UNESCO, CBD, UNU, IFAD, the Federal Republic of Germany, IUCN, UNDP, ICCROM, The Christensen Fund, Biodiversity International, and governments of the pilot countries. 

3. What are the goals and objectives of the GIAHS Initiative?

GIAHS is a Partnership Initiative which aims to set the basis for global and national recognition, dynamic conservation and sustainable management of agricultural heritage systems and their associated biodiversity, knowledge systems and cultures.

The fundamental goal of the GIAHS Partnership Initiative is development, in the sense of improving income capacity, well-being and outlook of the local communities, especially young generations, instilling pride and identity in their own agricultural heritage, knowledge systems and culture.

However, the kind of development the GIAHS Initiative hopes to encourage is not development at any cost. It promotes maintenance and conservation of a high level of goods and services derived from the ecosystem, of supported endogenous tried and tested ways of natural resource management (which have already proved their sustainability, based on a wide array of diversity and highly ingenious management practices).

International recognition is not the main objective of the GIAHS Initiative, but it is a way of further ensuring continuity of support work and funding in aid of these remarkable systems.

4. What are the intervention strategies of the GIAHS Initiative?

In order to provide systematic support to the conservation and adaptive management of GIAHS, the chosen project strategy is to make interventions at three distinct levels:

  1. At the Global level: it will facilitate international recognition of the concept of GIAHS wherein globally significant agrobiodiversity is harboured, and it will consolidate and disseminate lessons learned and best practices from project activities at the pilot country level.
  2. At the National level: in pilot countries, the project will ensure mainstreaming of the GIAHS concept in national sectoral and inter-sectoral plans and policies.
  3. At the Local/Site level: in pilot countries, the project will address conservation and adaptive management at the community level.

5. What is a dynamic conservation approach?

The term “agricultural heritage” in the GIAHS acronym is sometimes confused by many readers with the idea of creating a museum. The programme does not promote creation of museums nor does it aim to maintain unchanged the existing landscape and natural resource management methods.

On the contrary, the GIAHS Initiative supports enhancement and capacity development of the local communities and indigenous peoples to react to ecological, economic, social, and cultural changes using endogenous mechanisms. For these reasons, the GIAHS Initiative is promoting “dynamic conservation of living and evolving agricultural systems”, through the following activities:

  • Bringing about the recognition of these systems at the regional, national and international level;
  • Conservation without fossilization;
  • Creating better policy and options for regulatory environments and incentive structures at all levels;
  • Enhancing viability and risk-aversion;
  • Farmer-centred, proactive participation and community-driven initiatives;
  • Improving people’s livelihoods and viability;
  • Integrating indigenous knowledge and wisdom with the modern agro-ecological knowledge of effective natural resources’ management;
  • Strengthening “what is there”, the human management systems and cultures that underpin the sustainability and resilience of GIAHS; and
  • Synergizing local-level activities and enabling policy and legal environments that provide incentives and share benefits.

In particular, the capacity of these systems to satisfy the needs of the concerned populations, the biodiversity of global significance and the quality landscapes that they produce constitute an essential contribution to the world’s agricultural heritage.

6. How is the GIAHS Initiative trying to achieve both its development and sustainability goals in the face of globalization and global climate change/variability?

GIAHS supports small holders/traditional family farming communities and indigenous peoples who are pro dynamic progress in managing the five rural assets.

The idea of « supporting » should be intended in the sense of accompanying the initiatives taken by the small holders/traditional family farming communities and indigenous peoples – however, not in the sense of substituting them or taking decisions on their behalf.

In the face of growing climate change/variability, growth in food and agricultural production would need:

  • environmental and friendly technologies,
  • maximizing resource use and efficiency,
  • sustainable intensification and diversification.

Given this, the GIAHS Initiative promotes an “adaptive management” approach to exploring and developing novel social, economical and governance processes that strengthen the existing livelihood and management practices that generate sustainable agriculture and rural development – that is, enhance the ecosystem goods and services and provide other globally important outcomes such as cultural diversity and indigenous knowledge systems. 

Thus, the development processes may be different from the ones presently promoted and contain new and modern elements that maintain the functionalities and principal values of these agro-ecosystems. The GIAHS Initiative ultimately assists the traditional and family farming communities living in and around GIAHS in establishing strengthened socio-political (governance) and economic processes (eco-tourism, niche markets, off-farm income, etc.) that help them address the challenges of globalization and make the most of the opportunities of modern living, while at the same time maintaining agro-ecosystem goods and services.

7. What do we mean by the five assets of rural systems?

GIAHS tries to be consistent in its approach which distinguishes five assets of rural systems, defined as follows:

Natural capital: nature’s goods and services (waste assimilation, pollination, storm protection, water supply, wildlife).

Human capital: skills, knowledge, capability to work and health. At the level of the production unit the work is available in a quantity and of a quality that mainly depends on health.

Social capital: vertical (benefactor/beneficiary) and/or horizontal (between people sharing the same interests) networks that increase people’s capacity of working together and that can facilitate access to larger institutions (in particular political institutions). Social capital also includes relationships of trust which can reduce transaction costs and serve as a basis for informal credit and/or solidarity networks. Solid groups from civil society can help influence political decision-makers and guarantee that their interests will be taken into account in legislation.

Physical capital: infrastructures i.e. changes made to the physical environment to enable people to satisfy their basic needs and to be more productive (mainly tools). Infrastructures include roads, markets, housing and work buildings, water supplies and sanitary systems and equipment for accessing information.

Financial capital: financial resources that people use such as savings and regular money income.

8. What are the criteria for judging adaptive management and dynamic progress?

Current thought suggests the following criteria for judging adaptive management and dynamic progress:

  • Agricultural and production systems, meaning a rich, diversified, pertinent and ingenious set of local knowledge and skills.
  • A high level of livestock and crop diversity for both wild species and, above all, for cultivated species (cultivars and races of domestic animals). This biodiversity must not be judged only by the number of species (quantitative biodiversity) but also by the endemic or rare nature of certain species (qualitative biodiversity).
  • A production system that meets the essential food requirements of rural families and produces surpluses to be sold on external markets.
  • Flexibility in natural resource management and landscape management systems to allow permanent changes to be made in order to take into account the economic parameters and the development of local social structures (balance of power between the social groups involved, de-localisation, de-valorisation of socio-culture, large-scale immigration, etc.).
  • Resilience against climatic risks: this resistance or ability to restore has been acquired with the ingenious and patient work of the farmers concerned. It is the result of continuous knowledge-building based on local experience and skills which result in minimized effects of the most severe local climate constraints (droughts, waterlogging of the soil, seasonal crop/livestock infestation, etc).

The GIAHS Initiative as an international programme, considers that progress has been made if it sees an improvement in meeting food security requirements, enhanced agricultural biodiversity, greater resilience, maintenance of ecosystems goods and services.

9. At the rural community level, what are the factors that are most frequently at the base of sustainable management of land and natural resources?

To be sustainable, land management within the community territory must be based on a wide social consensus on the ways to access natural resources (and land) and on how land will be allocated. It is the community and the community alone that must be responsible for decisions and indispensable collective actions to ensure the continuity of management efforts made by individuals (farmers, herders, fishermen, hunters and gatherers, etc.). Individual practices for exploiting natural resources (equipment and management techniques) are part of a consistent and continuing collective system piloted by the community as a whole.

Furthermore, the community must be well aware that natural resources are fragile and that they can be exhausted and it must demonstrate its firm intention to ensure sustainable management and be a «good father» to the resources within its territory:

It is crucial that the community has a sense of responsibility:

  • A community with a destiny. The men and women living in the community must feel responsible for the future of the natural resources within their territory.
  • A community with a clearly defined territory. The community feels involved in what goes on within its territorial limits. These limits must be recognized by neighbouring communities so as not to create conflict which is highly prejudicial to sustainable methods of natural resource use. This sense of responsibility could be termed as a sense of heritage.

The State cannot replace the local and traditional family farming communities’ determination to act. 

10. Why intervene in situations where the people concerned are already practicing ingenious and sustainable land and natural resource management techniques?

International cooperation organizations working in developing countries usually intervene in:

  • Emergency situations (natural catastrophes especially drought, wars resulting in the displacement of people who become refugees, accepted to a greater or lesser extent in the receiving countries, etc.);
  • Situations where there has been serious degradation of the natural resources, with the aim of rehabilitating the soil by various means with a certain degree of help from the local people who, if asked to participate, will usually do so especially when they receive food aid in exchange;
  • When the actions most frequently involve sectoral projects (reforestation, cash crop production, intensification of agricultural production, creation or rehabilitation of an irrigated area, rehabilitation of a protected area, water and soil conservation, etc.). In recent years we have been able to witness a movement towards greater pluridisciplinarity and a better understanding of the needs and desires of local peoples. This is particularly true for land management projects, natural resource management projects, and local development projects. But these projects are often run in difficult situations, where unsuitable practices have undermined the production capacity of the local environment and where the people concerned find themselves in increasingly precarious conditions.

We may certainly wonder why it is necessary to intervene in situations where things are going rather well! Nevertheless, these systems are often threatened by numerous elements which may vary from one situation to another.

Examples of development drivers and challenges are:

  • globalization and migration
  • information and knowledge
  • land degradation
  • markets and commercialization
  • natural resources and climate change (mitigation and adaptation)
  • policies out of step and institutions
  • population and urbanization
  • science and technology

11. What kinds of local partners does GIAHS work with?

As most programmes run by agencies of the United Nations, the GIAHS Initiative collaborates and works with national governments as lead national focal institutions and with proactive participation of the local and national organizations with stake to GIAHS, such as local civil society organizations, youth organizations, women’s organizations, researchers and academes, producer groups and cooperatives, truly representative professional agricultural organizations, and more importantly, the local farming communities. There is no limit to the number of stakeholders or organizations the GIAHS Initiative will work with. Since it is a Global Partnership Initiative, the programme encourages multi-stakeholders integrated across sectors and enhances positive externalities and reduces negative externalities.

12. What are good policies for dynamic conservation of GIAHS and sustainable agriculture and rural development?

  • Being centered on people and based on rights
  • Adopting an integrated, territorial perspective
  • Redressing power disparities through good governance
  • Building capacity to manage and adapt change
  • Building self-reliant institutions at local and national levels
  • Reorienting development policies at the national level
  • Realizing a new international economic order at the global level

13. What are the advantages of using traditional agricultural knowledge systems?

There are advantages and reasons why traditional agricultural knowledge systems are more desirable than any of the modern technologies. This is because of the following reasons:

  • They are knowledge-based and draw on local resources
  • They provide effective alternatives to western know-how
  • They are mainly qualitative and experiential
  • They have an intuitive component
  • They are holistic
  • They are spiritually based on a distinct cosmology
  • They incorporate local ethics and social values
  • They are based on empirical observations and accumulation of facts by trial and error
  • They are based on data generated by resource users themselves
  • They are based on long-time data series in one location

14. How are GIAHS sites being selected?

The selection of GIAHS is based on various criteria such as: their importance for the provision of local food security; high levels of agro-biodiversity and associated biological diversity; store of indigenous knowledge and ingenuity of management systems; socio-cultural functions and diversity; and aesthetic values. The biophysical, economic and socio-cultural resources have evolved under specific ecological and socio-cultural constraints to create outstanding landscapes. The examples of such agricultural heritage systems are in the hundreds and are home to thousands of ethnic groups, indigenous communities and local populations with a myriad of cultures, languages and social organization.

Examples of GIAHS could fall into:

  1. Mountain rice terrace agroecosystems.
  2. Multiple cropping/polyculture farming systems.
  3. Multiple copping/mixed cropping systems.
  4. Nomadic and semi-nomadic pastoral systems.
  5. Ancient irrigation, soil and water management systems.
  6. Complex multi-layered home gardens.
  7. Below sea level systems.
  8. Tribal agricultural heritage systems.
  9. High-value crop and spice systems.
  10. Hunting-gathering systems.

15. Will the GIAHS Initiative work on sites in industrialized countries?

Yes. The Initiative does not exclude industrialized and well developed countries. In countries with a long tradition of agricultural systems such as Japan, the United States and European countries, there are numerous «constructed landscapes, cultural heritage, sacred landscapes», which qualify for GIAHS designation and recognition. The GIAHS Initiative is working for technical collaboration on selected systems in these countries and would promote exchange of information, sharing of experiences and lessons learned from their landscapes and heritage conservation management.

Global Environment Facility

Global Environment Facility

Internetauftritt des Bundesministeriums für Ernährung, Landwirtschaft und Verbraucherschutz