La FAO en Amérique latine et aux Caraïbes

Two new sites in Ecuador declared FAO Globally Important Agricultural Heritage Systems

The so-called "chakras" are located in the Andes mountains and the Amazon region. Latin America and the Caribbean had five agriculture heritage sites in 4 countries: one in Brazil, one in Chile, one in Peru, and two in Mexico.

Photo: ©FAO/Pareto Paysages - The different plateaus at different altitudes are used to cultivate species with different needs.

February 13, Santiago, Chile- Two biodiverse agricultural and agroforestry systems in Ecuador were recognized Globally Important Agricultural Heritage Systems (GIAHS) by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). 

The designation followed the GIAHS Scientific Advisory Group meeting held this week. FAO created the GIAHS program in 2002 to safeguard and sustain the world's agricultural heritage systems. The initiative promotes national and international understanding, awareness, and recognition of agricultural heritage sites. It aims to safeguard the social, cultural, economic, and environmental goods and services these systems provide to family farmers, smallholders, indigenous peoples, and local communities. The initiative fosters an integrated approach to sustainable agriculture and rural development.

According to the selection criteria, the sites must be globally significant, contribute to food security, livelihood security and native agrobiodiversity, traditional knowledge systems, social values, and culture, and constitute extraordinary landscapes. 

The sites chosen are in the Andes mountains and another in the Amazon region of Ecuador. These "chakras" have thrived thanks to the collective action of indigenous peoples, who have ensured the sustainable management of natural resources and food sovereignty over the centuries.

"The designation of these sites in Ecuador boosts women's empowerment, as 80% of the chakras are managed by indigenous women, known locally as Chakramamas, who use valuable traditional knowledge in the dynamic conservation, sustainable use and daily operation of these sites," explained Maria Helena Semedo, FAO Assistant Director-General. 

With the latest additions to the World Agricultural Heritage systems list, FAO's global network has 74 recognized systems in 24 countries worldwide. 

In Latin America and the Caribbean, there are five systems in four countries: one in Brazil, in Minas Gerais; one in Chile, in Chiloé; two in Mexico, in Mexico City and the Yucatán Peninsula; and one in Peru, in the Andes. 

Ancestral agricultural system 

The Andean chakra of the Kichwa indigenous peoples is characterized by the integration and interconnection of climates, ecosystems, agricultural practices, and biodiversity at an altitude ranging from 2,500 to 3,400 meters in the mountains of Cotacachi in the Andes. 

The chakras are fundamental in developing the material and symbolic life of Kichwa families and communities, based on a rich ancestral knowledge that encompasses gastronomy, medicine, and rituals. They are essential for conserving a great diversity of unique local crop varieties. This territory is considered one of the largest and best-preserved areas of agricultural biodiversity in Ecuador and the Andean region. 

The mountain plateaus at various altitudes are used for the cultivation of species with different needs, contributing to food security and sovereignty, nutrition, medicine, decoration, fuel, and fodder, as well as cultural uses and the production of handicrafts and utensils. The Cotacachi system has allowed the in-situ conservation of species and varieties, including maize, beans, quinoa, and potatoes, mainly for the communities' consumption. 

The small surpluses are marketed to generate income for families, especially rural women. Thus, they constitute an essential means of subsistence for the communities and economic empowerment and autonomy for women. 

Sustainable land-use model in agroforestry 

The Amazonian chakra is a sustainable land use model in agroforestry. The families manage the productive spaces within the farm from an organic and biodiverse perspective, offering multiple services to the populations. 

Here, the Kichwa and Kijus communities have developed a polyculture system in which cocoa is grown along with timber, fruit, medicinal, handicraft, edible, and ornamental species, as well as other activities that include hunting and timber and non-timber forest products. 

The Amazon chakra maintains patterns in its spatial design and defined phases in its temporal management cycle, which mimic the natural processes of forest succession or restoration within the Amazon biome. The system, which is unique in its integration of forest and watershed management, is oriented towards efficiently managing the low fertility of Amazonian soils. In this system, the communities apply a series of agroforestry mechanisms and practices that guarantee shade and care for the soil.