Director-General  QU Dongyu
A statement by FAO Director-General QU Dongyu

GIAHS Award Ceremony

Opening Remarks


Dr QU Dongyu, FAO Director-General

22 May 2023



Ladies and Gentlemen

Dear Colleagues, good morning from Rome.


I welcome you to the Award Ceremony of FAO’s Globally Important Agricultural Heritage Systems (GIAHS).


Today, we celebrate the official recognition of 24 new GIAHS sites – in 12 countries, from 4 world regions.


I congratulate Brazil, China, Ecuador, Italy, Iran, Japan, Republic of Korea, Mexico, Morocco, Spain, Thailand and Tunisia for the recognition of their new systems.


From oases to the Amazonian Forest, from nomadic pastoral systems to the fisheries of the Mediterranean lagoons, these diverse sites illustrate the ingenuity of each GIAHS member.


I send special congratulations to the farmers in the new GIAHS sites – they are the creators and custodians of these systems! Welcome to the GIAHS family!


Now, we will continue to work together to achieve sustainable rural development, by implementing new actions, developing joint projects and twinning programmes, building capacities and learning from each other.


Thanks to the support of FAO Members, the number of sites has now reached 74. This is a great milestone for GIAHS, as it passes into its third decade.


I especially wish to welcome and thank the High-Level Authorities and country delegations here today, and our donor countries China, Italy, Japan and Spain.


FAO established the GIAHS 21 years ago, to safeguard traditional agricultural systems and to recognize the communities responsible for them.


For centuries, and in some cases millennia, these traditional methods have contributed to food security, ensured diverse and nutritious diets, and produced food in harmony with their environments.


In many cases, these methods have helped agricultural communities adapt to difficult geographic and climatic conditions.


Especially now as we are facing a climate crisis, we can learn from traditional practices and wisdom, our ancestors knew how to build adaptation and mitigation systems to survive, and even to be prosper.


Therefore, the heritage of civilization matters to modernization. You cannot build modernization without the roots of the traditional agrifood systems and food civilizations.


All agrifood systems relate to food culture. Food is not only food, food is not only nutrition. Food also includes culture, heritage and civilization.


Many of the Agricultural Heritage Systems have become reservoirs of biological diversity because traditional practices have holistic ideas on how to preserve the system sustainably.


We cannot create sustainability without respecting nature and traditional practices. This is particularly relevant today, as we mark the International Day for Biological Diversity. This day provides an opportunity to increase understanding and awareness of biodiversity issues.


As I have said many times during the past 40 years, even when I was a scientist, to preserve biodiversity we need to create food diversity.


In the context of agrifood systems and rural areas, we need to consider a combined conservation of biodiversity and food diversity. This is the most pragmatic way to raise public awareness on biodiversity.


This International Day is also to celebrate the local communities that are the custodians of biodiversity. It reminds us that we must protect and restore nature for the benefit of people and the planet.


This is in line with FAO’s Strategy on Mainstreaming Biodiversity Across Agricultural Sectors, and the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration 2021-2030.


Without biodiversity, we cannot have food, and we cannot have agriculture, to continue and to develop.


Agricultural Heritage Systems showcase practices that offer solutions to climate change and biodiversity loss, in particular at the local level.


We have achieved lots together, but there is still lots to be done.


There are currently an additional 18 systems as official candidates as potential GIAHS sites.


The task of reviewing these candidates falls on the GIAHS Scientific Advisory Group.


Some members of the Advisory Group are with us today, and I wish to thank them for their dedication and support.


We are also exploring ways to increase livelihood opportunities on GIAHS sites, such as through the e-commerce and tourism sectors, as well as synergies with other FAO Initiatives such as the One Country One Priority Product (OCOP), 1 000 Digital Villages, and the Mountain Partnership.


I wish to remind all the Scientific Advisory Group members that you need to include the criteria of building up inclusiveness when considering Candidate sites and countries, you cannot only take into consideration a long farming history as many countries do not have this.


You also need to consider the scientific contributions or best practice approach, and you need to find differentiated standards for different commodities and different systems. In this way, you will also raise more public awareness and establish more partnerships with the GIAHS in the future.


We will also be collaborating with the UN World Tourism Organization to create opportunities for putting GIAHS sites on the agri-tourism map, this is a real reflection of collaboration across the UN system because rural areas are cross-cutting across many UN agencies, such as agri-tourism, and even with UNESCO, among others.


Rural development is related to many aspects, not only agriculture, but also education, transportation, science, religion, health, and many more.


When I was a local leader in China, we set up more than 26 different sectors to support rural development, including women, youth, religion, culture, education, history, innovation, digital innovation and technology, among others.


We need to work together with as many UN sister agencies as possible to help boost livelihoods and support sustainable agrifood systems and landscapes.


To the new awardees, I say that having your certificates is not the end - with recognition, comes more work and responsibility.


These recognized sites require maintenance, continuous improvement and collaboration to adapt to current and future challenges, including from the impacts of the climate crisis, as well as urbanization and industrialization.


I know some sites that would be actively impacted by urbanization and industrialization. It is a future challenge. For this reason, it is important to have continuous monitoring to ensure that the sites are performing to standards, and through adaptive management.


By meeting and improving standards, we will grow the GIAHS programme in strength and scope, for the conservation of these systems for future generations, to contribute to ending hunger and poverty, and to ensure the Four Betters: better production, better nutrition, a better environment, and a better life for all - leaving no one behind. 


So, Four Betters from the villages, from the community, from the farmers’ practice, and not only from the FAO Strategic Framework or national policies.


Let us walk the talk and respect the traditional practices with new technologies to modernize agrifood systems to be more fit-for-purpose for ending hunger.


Thank you very much!