Traditional farming system in Brazil added to global agricultural heritage list

Farmers known as Sempre-vivas flower gatherers from Espinhaço Mountain Range won recognition for their crucial role in enhancing biodiversity and preserving traditional knowledge

11 March, 2020, Rome - A traditional farming system in the Southern Espinhaço Mountain Range of the Minas Gerais State in Brazil has been recognized as Globally Important Agricultural Heritage Systems (GIAHS), managed by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). It is the first time a Brazilian site has won the GIAHS recognition.

Rooted in mountainous areas, the Espinhaço's unique mosaic of landscapes and ecosystems where the Sempre-Vivas flowers are picked is the most biodiverse savannah on the planet and plays a crucial role in regulating the region's rainfall.

Local farmers also known as Sempre-vivas flower gatherers have developed an effective agricultural system combining flower gathering, agroforestry gardening, livestock grazing and crop cultivation - all performed at various altitudes of up to 1400 meters. Such complex system is based on a wide range of traditional knowledge and practices passed on from generation to generation helping people achieve harmony with the environment while ensuring their food and livelihood security.

"Thanks to their profound understanding of natural cycles and ecosystems, and their vast knowledge of native flora, the local communities manage all kinds of agricultural activities well adapted to each soil type, geographic and climatic characteristics to sustain their lives," said FAO GIAHS Coordinator Yoshihide Endo. "These activities also contribute to preserving valuable crop varieties, native vegetation and landscapes in the area."

The local people's activities vary from gathering, processing and conservation of native flowers in the common-use highlands; traditional herding of livestock along centuries-old migration routes; collection of fruits, seeds, medicinal plants in the natural environment at lower altitudes, to maintaining traditional home gardens and larger crop fields along the foothills.

Unique agrobiodiversity hotspot

About 90 species of crops are cultivated in the Espinhaço mountains including vegetables, fruit trees, tubers, and others. Throughout generations the local communities have developed unique skills and practices to maintain genetic resources and enhance agrobiodiversity.

By moving across the mountains back and forth following traditional practices of flower gathering and livestock herding, people enrich native fields with a variety of crop species enabling ecosystems and landscapes to regenerate and get more diverse from the natural flows of seeds and genes.

The sustainable access and use of the native flora are controlled by each community in accordance with species' natural cycles and the intensity of gathering to ensure the renovation of each species.

About the GIAHS Programme

The new addition brings the total number of GIAHS worldwide to 59 in 22 countries. The programme highlights unique ways that rural communities have over generations forged to foster food security, viable livelihoods, resilient ecosystems and high levels of biodiversity, all while contributing to the formation of remarkable landscapes.

Read more about the new entry here.

Photo: ©FAO/Fernanda_Testa_Monteiro
From April to October, the flower gatherers and their families climb up the mountain for the picking of the Sempre-Vivas flowers, staying there for weeks.