The place of sustainable tourism in preserving four incredible agricultural sites

Agricultural tourism can help rebuild and redefine tourism in a new more sustainable way

Vineyards are an iconic part of Italy’s landscapes. In Soave, they provide a sustainable income source for the grape growers, wine producers and bottlers – and a fascinating visit for tourists. ©FAO/Consorzio Tutela Vini Soave e Recioto di Soave


The COVID-19 pandemic has hit the tourism sector hard and international travel in particular has suffered a blow, particularly impacting rural people whose livelihoods may rely on foreign visitors. But with every challenge there is an opportunity, and this is one to build tourism back better: more sustainably, more fairly, promoting non-traditional, rural destinations and creating more resilient livelihoods for local communities.

One way of doing this is through ‘agritourism’. It has recently become popular with travellers, who get to experience local and traditional cultures and cuisines. Agritourism benefits farmers and rural communities too, providing an opportunity to diversify their economic activities and create new demand for their agricultural products.

Like with all tourism, careful management is required, however, to prevent potential negative impacts on the environment, agricultural resources, biodiversity and the lives and cultures of the people in these areas.  Sustainability is key.

With this in mind, FAO and the World Tourism Organization of the United Nations (UNWTO) will work together to promote sustainable agricultural tourism as a promising way to boost rural development.

The FAO-UNWTO partnership will begin by promoting agritourism in FAO’s Globally Important Agricultural Heritage Systems (GIAHS) sites, all of which represent not only stunning natural landscapes but also agricultural practices that create livelihoods in rural areas while combining tradition and innovation in a unique way. 

Here are just four examples of GIAHS sites where sustainable tourism can enhance development, combat poverty and give youth new work opportunities. 

Soave Valley vineyards, Italy 

Rolling hills, ancient farmhouses and vineyards as far as the eye can see. An iconic landscape of Italy. Soave, a small region between Verona and Venice, is well-known for its wine – in fact, the traditional vineyards of the local variety of grape, Garganega, have provided income to more than 3 000 families for 200 years. 

Farmers in the region still use traditional methods of training the vines, a vineyard management method balancing the growth of the vine with the quality of the fruit to produce optimum results. The end result? One of Italy’s most famous wines - vino Soave. Despite its typically small or micro estates, this area has succeeded in ensuring a sustainable income source for the grape growers, wine producers, and bottlers, even during the most challenging periods thanks to cooperation and innovation. For example, in order to raise net values of wine and maintain their price, the area obtained European Protected Designation of Origin in 1968, recognising the product for its unique qualities across the world. In addition, the farmers have established cooperative wineries and created a complex compensation system that guarantees their members a fair income each year, despite the fluctuations in the market prices. 

Now, the region is continuing to innovate by promoting local tourism that employ a number of employees at hotels, restaurants and wineries, generating good revenue for the region.

Left/Top: Noto's communities in Japan are working together to sustainably maintain the landscapes and traditions that have sustained generations for centuries – and tourism can help. ©FAO/Kazem Vafadari. Right/bottom: The Archipelago of Chiloé is an area of natural beauty and age-old tradition, now also benefiting from tourism. ©FAO/Liana John

Satoyama and Satoumi, Japan

The Noto peninsula is a microcosm of traditional rural Japan, where mountains, forests and coastal areas are all interlinked in one incredible agricultural system. Hilly terrain is interspersed with wide valleys and fields, all of which is surrounded by a volcanic rock coastline. The peninsula is characterised by a mosaic of satoyama, terrestrial-aquatic landscape ecosystems, and satoumi, marine-coastal ecosystems.

Unique to the Noto peninsula, traditional methods of farming and forestry, such as rice drying, charcoal and salt making, traditional fishing and water management, have been practiced in this area for centuries. Noto's communities are working together to sustainably maintain the satoyama and satoumi landscapes and the traditions that have sustained generations for centuries. The government has designated the region as a special green-tourism zone and efforts are being made to raise awareness of the site and promote tourism from urban areas. 

Chiloé Agriculture, Chile 

In southern Chile, there is an area characterised by islands and large tranquil stretches of coast, upon which lie hundreds of brightly coloured houses. This is the Archipelago of Chiloé, an area of natural beauty and tradition where farmers have dedicated their time and work for millennia. In 2011, it was also designated as a GIAHS site due to its unique biodiversity and agricultural methods

In the past, rural women carried out biodiversity conservation activities in their family vegetable gardens and small plots, the potato as one of the most important. In fact, it is the potato that the lives of many Island dwellers are centred around. It is linked to their cultural traditions, ancestral social practices, beliefs and mythology - many of which in the dawn of the third millennium are still in use. Currently, the local government is developing rural touristic services related to farms, food products and handicrafts.

China’s terraced landscapes use some of the most innovative rice cultivation methods in the world. ©FAO

Rice Terraces in Southern Mountainous and Hilly areas, China

These mountainous areas in the southern provinces of China are known for their stunning landscapes - but did you know that the people there use some of the world’s most innovative ways to cultivate rice?

Ancient settlers in this area built terraced fields for water conservation, making it possible to grow rice in hilly areas. These fascinating agricultural methods are still in use today, and to encourage tourists to visit the region, understand the traditions and help revitalise the rural economy, China is promoting eco-tourism. New eco-tourism projects are one of the government’s strategies to alleviate poverty in these rural areas by helping local communities diversify their incomes. Airbnb and the local government are working together to train local communities on tourist management and accommodation.

27 September is World Tourism Day, and this year it falls at a tough time. This year’s theme, Tourism and Rural Development allows us to explore a new kind of tourism outside of big cities and discover the role it can play in supporting rural communities. GIAHS sites encourage the public to appreciate the agricultural traditions, even in their own regions, and recognise their historical and cultural importance. Focusing on the role that sustainable tourism can play in driving development and strengthening livelihoods particularly in rural areas, this pandemic is helping us rethink the sector – and giving us a chance to ensure that incredible sites remain alive for another 1 000 years to come.

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1. No poverty, 2. Zero hunger, 8. Decent work and economic growth, 15. Life on land