Globally Important Agricultural Heritage Systems (GIAHS)

Geumsan Traditional Ginseng Agricultural System, Republic of Korea

GIAHS since 2018
©Courtesy of Geumsan County


Detailed Information



Global importance

Korean Ginseng is an important agriculture heritage with 1,500 years of history and tradition. It is also a representative medicinal crop of not just Geumsan region but Korea itself and has been used for thousands of years as one of important medicinal herbs in Northeast Asia including Korea.

Geumsan Korean Ginseng Agricultural System was designated as a Korean Important Agricultural Heritage System (KIAHS) in 2015. With the voluntary participation of Geumsan residents, many different endeavors have been undertaken, and others planned, to better conserve, manage and utilize the Korean Ginseng Agricultural System.

Food and livelihood security

Korean Ginseng has long been a main product of Geumsan. As a key income source for the livelihood and economy of ginseng farmers and the Geumsan region, Korean Ginseng from Geumsan represents the largest and best ginseng production, processing, and distribution center for domestic sale and for export abroad.

In addition, Geumsan is the largest ginseng production site in which ginseng market has been formed. Currently, ginseng wholesalers are gathering from large cities across the country and about 80% of the nation's ginseng is circulating on the day when the ginseng market is held. Therefore, for residents of Geumsan area, ginseng is an inseparable entity.

Lastly, Ginseng farmers grow not only ginseng but also other medicinal and food crops such as soybean, corn, pepper, paddy and rye on fields on rotating stage or on other lands that are not suitable for ginseng farming to maintain livelihood.


Various indigenous ginseng varieties and farming methods are preserved, since farmers individually selected and passed down many different ginseng varieties to subsequent generations. This plays a key role in the protection of the rare Korean ginseng variety.

Especially, due to the ecological characteristics of ginseng in which it likes half-shadows, there are many bryophytes such as hair moss and liverworts that appear frequently in the traditional ginseng cultivation fields in Geumsan area. In addition, there are many mountains nearby Geumsan county and rivers making it a suitable habitat for mammals, birds and amphibians to live.

Local and traditional knowledge systems

Traditional Korean Ginseng farming system is characterized by ‘environment friendly rotating agricultural system’, ‘shading technique’ that focuses on the wind circulation and direction, and the ‘symbiotic relationship between nature and human' for the sustainable ginseng agriculture.

The principles, a unique long term 15 to 20 years rotation farming which goes in the cycle of: Ginseng plantation → fallowing or rotation to other crops → Pre-planting process. Korean Ancestors believed Ginseng consumed much of the land‘s energy (Ji ryuk) to grow, and the land was fallowed or rotated to a different crop.

Further advanced traditional farming knowledge systems for Geumsan ginseng farming includes the ‘Haegarim Shading technique for wind direction and circulation management’ and the ‘Ingongbala artificial germination process characterized by Geumsan's traditional method of stratification’. In order to create a similar environment as that of wild ginseng naturally shaded by trees in the forest, a shading facility was devised using natural materials such as straw, grass and trees.

On the other hand, in the rice field located in the lower part of the ginseng cultivation area, rice straws, gathered after rice harvest, are used to make shadings and are also used as organic compost. In addition, in the rice field, green crops such as chrysanthemum and clover are grown and supplied to the planned site of ginseng cultivation.

Culture, value systems and social organisations

Culturally, in ginseng villages, there are many traditional ceremonies related to ginseng agriculture such as ‘Samjangje’ which is a ceremony in which the farmers pray for the good harvest of ginseng farming and a ‘Songgyejigyenori’ which is performed when collecting the wild herbs and other vegetations from the forest to be used for the soil recovery.

In Korea's rural farms, there is traditionally a practice called "Pumasi" which exchanges labor power to help each other’s farm. Hence, in between the ginseng farms in the Geumsan area, “Pumasi” has been practiced among the ginseng farmers. For example, the tradition of village residents participating in ginseng cultivation shade facility installation, ginseng seed grafting ginseng harvesting, and post-harvest ginseng cultivation (cutting, drying) is still maintained until today.

Landscapes and seascapes features

Geumsan’s landscape clearly shows the characteristics of South Korea’s rural landscape, which is composed components such as mountains, hills, settlements and river areas conforming to topography. In rural areas of Korea, the most important characteristic is that the residential area, which is the living space, and the cultivated area, which is the production space, are organically connected to the natural environment that consists of forests and rivers.

In other words, the natural elements and the artificial elements constituting the rural scenery are appropriately harmonized. When the harmony and balance between natural elements and artificial elements are small, the quality of landscapes is lowered. However, Geumsan ginseng cultivation area is appropriately adapted to the topography and environment so that it maintains balance and harmony between cultivated land, settlements, forests, and rivers. The ginseng cultivation land on the mountain slope of Geumsan was formed by the people’s adaptation to the local natural environment.