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Shexian Dryland Stone Terraced System

Summary

Detailed Information

Partners

Annexes

 Global importance

Shexian Dryland Stone Terraced System provides multiple benefits such as soil erosion reduction, microclimate improvement and habitats conservation. The presence of stone-ridge terraces guarantees soil and water maintenance providing abundant agricultural products and protecting the germplasm resources. For that reason the stone terraces cover a key role in natural environment conservation while sustaining local communities.

Various grains, cash crops and economic tree species are cultivated in stone-ridge terraces, providing local communities with a diverse range of foods. At the same time the forests in the mountain peaks have provided good habitats for wild flora and fauna and the terraces on the mountain sides have greatly increased agro-biodiversity while traditional farming techniques have adequately realized nutrient cycling.

The conservation and development of the heritage system bears important significance to the promotion of civilized ecological development in the heritage site, not only reducing the occurrence of natural disasters such as soil erosion, landslides and debris flow, but also providing a quality environment to the locals for daily life and economic production. As a consequence this system could be considered as a model for the use of soil and water resource in mountainous area as well as for sustainable and ecological agriculture in drylands.

Food and livelihood security

In the Shexian Dryland Stone Terraced System rich and diverse grain crops, cash crops and economic fruit trees are cultivated. The system not only provides ample food for the local population but also guarantees the preservation of a large amounts of valuable local varieties. The wide range of food and varieties have given the locals more choices in the face of natural disasters such as drought and floods, thus ensuring the food security of the heritage site and the livelihood security of the local population. Among all She County is home to Chinese prickly ash and walnut, locals have cultivated Chinese prickly ash for over 700 years.

The system does not only allow locals to produce and process agricultural products but also provides a base for the development of local tourism playing an important role in boosting the employment of the local labor force. According to surveys, a total of 18,679 people were employed in the sectors related to agricultural heritage in the heritage site, accounting for 67.2% of the resident population. The production of agricultural products is the biggest driver of labor force employment locally.

Agro-biodiversity

The dryland terrace system of She County is extremely rich in agro-biodiversity. In fact, according to surveys, crops in the stone-ridge terraces include 5 kinds of grain, 3 kinds of legumes and 2 kinds of tubers while Cash crops include 6 kinds of oilseed crops, 1 kind of fiber crops, 9 kinds of Chinese herbs and over 30 kinds of vegetables. The local varieties still cultivated in the system include 29 varieties of millet, 4 varieties of maize, 7 varieties of soybean, 12 varieties of long beans, 6 varieties of pumpkin, 5 varieties of Chinese prickly ash, 5 varieties of black jujubes and 10 varieties of persimmons. Furthermore eight kinds of livestock and one kind of fowl are domesticated in the villages.

This agro-biodiversity is related to the presence of terraces that cover an important role in terms of biodiversity conservation. In fact, the stone-ridge terraces can effectively reduce the loss of water and nutrients enabling the soil to retain greater amounts of water and nutrients. This creates favorable conditions for the survival and reproduction of soil microorganisms.

Local and traditional knowledge systems

The system is deeply influence by traditional knowledge, both according to the cultivation techniques and to the water and soil conservation. In fact, the terrace system is characterized by a series of water and soil resource utilization technologies centered upon construction and maintenance of terraces and rainfall harvesting and storage. On the scale of the farmland, agricultural cropping modes such as inter-cropping, rotation and mixed cropping are employed, constituting a complete farming system which includes seed selection, tilling, sowing, fertilization, thinning, weeding, pest control, irrigation and harvest. On the scale of villages, techniques such as grain storage and stone house construction have played important supporting roles.

Among all particularly import is the process of building stone-ridge terraces which includes constructing stone shelters (known as Shi’anzi), piling stone ridges and backfilling soil in three phases, which is a epitome of how locals fully utilizes oil and stone resources.

Cultures, Value Systems and Social Organization

Local tradition is deeply rooted in the dryland terrace system of She County and it is visible through a wide number of traditional festivals, tales and a strong food culture centered especially on coarse cereals. The food habit is visible in the multiple ways of consuming maize, millet and vegetables and in the tradition still maintained of making fried flour. A typical language of the area also represents the importance of the farming tradition. 

The harsh condition of the site have forced the local communities to adapt, this is particularly evident thanks to the philosophy of “treasuring soil like gold, treasuring water like oil” passed through generations and made clear by the terraces construction. It is thanks to them that the inhabitants have been able to survive in the area despite the difficulties due to the environment features.

Landscape and seascape features

The stone-ridge terraces, which are the main feature of the site are the result of the inhabitants’ long term adaptation to the harsh environment, fully utilizing limited soil and water resources and rich limestone resources. After a long evolution, stone-ridge terraces have formed distinct landscape features along with forests and shrubs on the mountain peaks, as well as villages and rivers/river beaches in the valleys. Stone-ridge terraces extend towards high mountains along the edges of the villages, with the highest reaching up to a summit with an elevation of over 1000 m and a slope gradient of more than 50°.