Globally Important Agricultural Heritage Systems (GIAHS)

Rice Terraces in Southern Mountainous and Hilly areas, China

GIAHS since 2018


Detailed Information



Global importance

The proposed four rice terraces systems in subtropical China are located in four southern provinces. All of the four systems have long histories, and one of them originated more than 2,300 years ago. The terraces built along the mountains have not only improved the local farming conditions, but also increased the output of grain. Moreover, they have been beneficial to the ecology of mountainous areas and have made great contributions to the sustainable development of agriculture in China.

Food and livelihood security

The Rice Terraces Systems still have traditional rice varieties that are high quality and rich in nutrients. These traditional varieties are also used for secondary products or making liquor products for sale. In addition to rice, farmers utilize paddy fields, drylands and forests to produce other agricultural products, as well as aquatic and forest products. This diversification improves the food security in these areas. Although there are difference between the four systems in terms of agriculture’s contribution to income, most of the food consumed by local people is produced within each system.

Biodiversity and eco-service functions

Over years of cultivation, seed selection and breeding enable a great number of traditional rice varieties well preserved in these terraces. Diversified planting modes and landscape patterns increase the diversity of species in terraces considerably, contributing to the control of diseases, pests and herbs and the reduction in chemical fertilizer and pesticide application. The Systems also provide rare animals and plants with good natural environment.

Knowledge system and adaptive technology

Even though the difficult construction of terrace fields finishes, the maintenance of the terrace fields also needs much effort. The Systems have maintained the terrace fields through planting on the ridge, watering during planting and winter season, and regular repairs. They have created effective natural gravity irrigation systems with simple engineering facilities in order to save water and prevent soil erosion. Farmers in the Systems have conserved a number of traditional rice cultivation technologies, including the selection of rice varieties, sowing and seedling, soil preparation, transplanting, field management and harvest.

Culture, value system and social organizations

Each of the four Terraces has unique features, and the history of the terraces has developed with the faith, folk, ceremony, traditional management and cultivation.

In Chongyi Hakka Terraces, the Hakkas have gradually summarized some proverbs which are easy to understand. They are handed down from generation to generation and can be used to direct production and farming arrangement. Including the proverbs above, six unique cultures are in the list of the intangible cultural heritages of Jiangxi Province. The Terraces have the clan system, which has conducted a large scale of reclamation. The clan management guarantees the stable expansion of terraces, which has enabled population growth in spite of harsh geographical characteristics.

Longsheng Longji Terraces deserve the name of “Home of World Terrace Fields” since it originated at least 2,300 years ago. Including the traditional but clumsy ways of ploughing, the traditional cultivation has been well preserved because of both the local farmers’ effort for conservation and the limited size of terrace fields. The worship of mountain gods and the inscribed tablets of entering mountain prohibitions are used to protect the forest above the terraces. The woodcutting and other methods are used to reasonably distribute and make uses of the water resources.

Xinhua Ziquejie Terraces have a long history for more than one thousand years. The region has developed unique traditional culture because of; the unique natural conditions; the rich natural resources; the production mode combining farming, fishing, and hunting; the succession of many ethnic groups over a long time. It has a number of the Intangible Cultural Heritage, including Xinhua Folk Songs, Martial Arts of Meishan, both of which are in national level heritage list. Traditional belief featured with unique witchcraft culture also helps people achieve harmonious coexistence with the natural environment and maintaining sustainable development.

The cultures of Youxi Lianhe Terraces corresponding to the agricultural production activities are also unique. The folk songs are important ways for ancient people to pass on farming knowledge to their descendants. Festivals, customs, worship and taboos are reflect of the harmonious relationship between ancient people and the nature.

Landscape, Water and Soil resources management

Having faced difficulties to distribute water fairly to local farmers, the Systems have developed rules and regulations related to water distribution management and agriculture production in terraces. With simple control and regulation facilities, like water distribution recorded by carved wood or rock, effective water management can be realized.

Since farming on terraces requires intensive labour, it is hard for one family to finish reaping within the best harvest time during harvest seasons. Besides, different seedling transplanting and ripening times for crops in terraces of different altitudes create mutual help between local people, in which one family can get help from other families so that they can finish transplanting or harvesting in a timely manner. The mutual help relationship helps the stability of the terrace system.