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Globally Important Agricultural Heritage Systems (GIAHS)

Agricultural Heritage System in Serra Do Espinhaço Meridional in Minas Gerais

Summary

Detailed Information

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Detailed Information

Global importance

The Espinhaꞔo mountain range plays a very important role for water supplies and for the conservation of native vegetation. In fact, the characteristic highlands cover an important ecological role contributing in both geodiversity and biodiversity with the presence of more than six thousand species in the local biota. Furthermore, the interaction between the cultural, agricultural and natural aspects have contributed to create a unique landscape particularly rich in terms of agro-biodiversity. The maintained tradition of slash and burn practise also contributes to guarantee this high variety of species. In addition the inter- and intra- specific crops diversity which allows inhabitants to practise slash and burn agriculture assures a more diversified diet, stabilizes the production, minimizes risks, reduces pest and blights problems, rationalizes the use of family labour, increases production and maximizes returns. At the same time the peculiar territorial structure explicated in a system of verticalities and horizontalities conferred flexibility to local agro-food strategies that guarantees the system resilience.

Both the transhumance and crossing activities characterizing the site generate flows of plant and animal genes and of food and economic activities between different communities as well as create and recreate social relations over time and space which are vital for the social reproduction of these groups and of their traditional way of life.

Food and livelihood security

The Espinhaꞔo system is the result of the combination of private and common use areas. The first ones are mostly located near the communities and are defined as family units, while the common use surfaces are characterized by the flowers gathering and the animal raising. In Serra do Espinhaꞔo the everlasting flowers are the first source of monetary income for the young people community while native flora is part of strategies for food, housing, tool making, medicinal and religious practices. The peculiarities of the area, constituted by the compresence of horizontalities and verticalities, leads to the identification of soil patches with more natural fertility to plant crops and to manage native flora within the natural cycles optimizing their energy and nutrient flows.

The food products could be consumed by the family, become monetary income or be bartered or donated between families to ensure a communities’ food and nutritional security. Generally families have livestock such as cattle, horses and chickens; orchards and some extra activities like gathering fruits, flowers, medicinal herbs and firewood production. The 66.7% of family production is for their own consumption while the 30.27% is for sale or barter.

Agro-biodiversity

The Serra do Espinhaꞔo system is characterized by the presence and interaction of endemic and domesticated species. The native flora species that are managed for food and no food purposes count 35 species of edible native fruits, 83 of medicinal plants, 16 lumber species, 240 ornamental species for income generation such as endemic flowers. The native flora is checked by the communities’ members according to the community’s uses. The management is based on traditional knowledge which is strictly related to species natural cycles and the intensity of gathering in order to ensure the renovation and maintenance of each species. The inhabitants have widely influenced the species population, they take them beyond geographic limits, select and enrich native fields with seeds stored from the harvesting.

The food culture in Serra do Espinhaꞔo passed down through generations and it is the expression of man and agricultural and food species adaptation. Fathers and sons often exchange seeds and the seeds sharing conducted by the communities have contributed to conserve the germplasm. Another important dynamic for gene flows takes place during the transhumance which involves the exchange of material. For that reason agricultural and native diversity include approximately 480 species of plants.

Local and traditional knowledge systems

The Serra do Espinhaꞔo landscape bases his roots in an inter-generational transmission of knowledge that provides the widespread recognition of native flora and fauna, considering habits, habitats, occurrence, multiple uses and significance. Their knowledge about local agro-environment also allows them to find more sustainable locations for crops, grazing and gathering. One of the most deep-rooted tradition is related to the medicine practices which are characteristic of the everlasting flower gathering communities.

A fundamental and peculiar local tradition is related to the slash and burn agricultural practise. This is a millenary practise here conducted in a wide variety of environments, from dense forests to tree covered savannahs. It involves opening clearings with sickle and fire to cultivate the area for a period followed by a longer period of lying fallow. In these area where the everlasting flower gathering is the key of the agricultural system, the slash and burn practise is a cultural legacy and a fundamental component for the maintenance of this reality.

Cultures, value system and social organization

The structure of the local society is founded on the agricultural activities, especially the everlasting flower gathering. The gathering of so many plant species’ different parts is deeply rooted in the community memory and goes back to ancestral practices in which flower gathering is related to evoking rhythms, rituals, meanings and stories. The everlasting flower communities are organized in associations where decision are taken by collective interests and rights. Furthermore, these communities are organized in a commission (the Commission to Defend the Rights of Sempre-Viva Flower Gatherers’ Communities) coordinated by representatives from all the participating communities and in charged to take collective decisions. The system’s participating communities share close kinship relations, analogous lifestyles, organizational principles and forms of socialization.

Landscape and seascape features

The area of Serra do Espinhaꞔo in which everlasting flower gathering is conducted could be divided in three macro units: mountains, hillsides and lowlands.

The mountain area is set at elevations higher than 1000 meters above the sea level; here it is possible to find everlasting flowers fields and large animal herds grazed in common use areas. The hillsides is characterized by steep surfaces in an altitude that goes from 1000 to 700 meters above the sea level. These areas are mostly represented by quartz outcrops associated with rupestrian grasslands. There are also wooded surfaces especially near the waterways and cerrado areas which present herbaceous, shrub and arboreal vegetation in coexistence with flower gathering and fruits, ornamentation and medicinal products cultivation. The lowlands are plains originating from sedimentation phenomena along the waterways and are located below 700 meters above the sea level; here there are evergreen flower gatherers called the shores of Jequitinhonha along the homonymous river.