Globally Important Agricultural Heritage Systems (GIAHS)

Minabe-Tanabe Ume System, Japan

GIAHS since 2015


Detailed Information



Global importance

The GIAHS site has developed an agricultural system that utilizes poor soil by planting Japanese apricots (Ume) while maintaining coppice forests that have various functions, such as providing wood for making charcoals and providing habitat for honeybees that are essential to pollinate the plum trees. Despite the soil conditions, the local people have continuously improved varieties of Japanese apricots and have produced the apricots and other products sustainably since 400 years ago.

The site demonstrates how people can develop agriculture under constraints utilizing knowledge of ecology and how people can pursue both productivity and sustainability.

Food and livelihood security

As the leading production site of Japanese apricots, it has developed a number of Japanese apricot varieties and now some of them are widely known all over Japan. Japanese apricot agriculture and related industries support livelihood of the local people and about 70% of the working population in the area engages in Japanese apricot production or related industries, such as processing, agro-tourism. All the sectors related to Japanese apricot production earn 70 billion Japanese Yen and it is supporting local economy.

Biodiversity and ecosystem functions

Biodiversity has been maintained by preserving coppice forests, ume orchards and other waterside environment. There is mutually beneficial relationship between ume trees and Japanese honeybees, in which the ume trees provide the honeybees with nectar while the honeybees help pollinate the ume trees. Thanks to the efforts by local farmers in the past, there are 16 ume varieties that are unique to this area. The coppice forests have been managed using selective cutting and other techniques since the 1700s, which has preserved a well-lit forest interior suited as a habitat for diverse flora and fauna.

Knowledge systems and adapted technologies

Various ume cultivation technologies adapted to poor soil and steep slopes have been developed through a long history of cultivation. They are superior to other producing districts in terms of both yield and quality. The local people have developed unique processing techniques of salt pickled and sun dried ume (umeboshi) for more than 300 years. The selective cutting for coppice forests, which is unique to this area, involves cutting only trees of the right thickness for charcoal making or trees that hinder the growth of Quercus phillyraeoides. With this method, the trees can be harvested every 10 years while it could only be harvested once every 30 to 40 years if all the trees were cut.

Cultures, value systems and social organizations

The people in this area cherish and feel thankful for the blessings such as ume cultivation and charcoal making provided by the coppice forests. They have many ume related festivals and events, through which the local people have nurtured strong ties among them.

Remarkable landscapes, Land and Water resources management features

Landscape involving the arrangement of coppice forests and ume orchards, which are the constituent elements of this area’s distinctive satoyama landscape, is the result of ume having been cultivated by making use of the natural slopes of the mountains without alteration. This is because the satoyama here is characterized by rudaceous soil, brittle geology, and poor water retention. Although some ume cultivation currently occurs on flat land for stabilizing farming operations, most ume cultivation makes use of satoyama slopes. By leaving coppice forests above and around the ume orchards, farmers made them exert functions such as watershed conservation and slope collapse prevention, and in ume orchards they practice sod culture to protect the soil and improve water retention. By these means they have achieved a type of land use, rare even in Japan, which uses ordinarily unusable land as orchards.