Системы сельскохозяйственного наследия мирового значения (ГИАХС)

Traditional Agricultural System in the Southern Espinhaço Meridional in Minas Gerais, Brazil

GIAHS since 2020


Detailed Information



Global significance

The Traditional Agricultural System in the Southern Espinhaço Meridional in Minas Gerais plays a very important role for water supplies and conservation of native vegetation, being one of the world’s biodiversity hotspots. It is the most biodiverse savannah on the planet and plays a very important role in regulating the region’s rainfall.

Local farmers in this site (Sempre-vivas flowers gatherers) contribute to preserving these valuable flora and landscapes in the area. The communities have developed unique knowhow and practices to sustainably use and maintain its natural and genetic resources through achieving harmony with the environment. These communities are the custodians of a precious ecosystems mosaic.

Food and livelihood security

All the families in these communities possess home gardens, larger cultivated crop fields and livestock, which farmers rely on the supply of most of their foods, thus contributing to ensure their self-consumption needs and food security throughout the seasons. In addition, farmers collect a wide range of timber and non-timber products in the natural lands from the Cerrado including medicinal plants, fruits, fibers and naturally grown sempre-vivas flowers. These activities are essential as the highest annual income for the families comes from the sales of these collected flowers and other ornamental products.


About 90 species of crops are cultivated within the system including vegetables, fruit trees, tubers, etc. The maintenance and enrichment of agrobiodiversity is ensured by a transgenerational transmission of genetic materials depending on constant cultivation, selection and exchanges among families and communities.

This sociocultural dynamic involves the exchange of materials among the three major landscapes of the Cerrado do Espanhaço. Family members transport species of their interest beyond the geographic limits in their long walks, select and enrich native fields with seeds stored from the harvest. In addition, transhumance practices plays a main role on the gene flows of the local breed Curraleiro from different communities.

The existence and maintenance of agrobiodiversity closely relate to these human activities. Among the native flora, 35 species of edible native fruits, 83 species of medicinal plants and 240 ornamental species are managed. The sustainable access and use of the native flora are controlled by each community’s customary use based on the associated knowledge covering the natural cycles of species and the intensity of gathering to ensure the renovation of each species.

Local and traditional knowledge systems

The communities have a wide range of traditional knowledge which manage all types of activities operated at different altitudes and environmental conditions including native flowers gathering and livestock grazing in common-use lands at 1,400m highland, collection of fruits, seeds, flowers, medicinal plants in the natural environment at lower altitudes, and traditional home gardens and larger crop fields at the sertão foothill in the further lower altitude of 600 m.

Gathering sempre-vivas flowers requires specific techniques from field management, manual collection, processing and conservation of flowers through each of its stages. Livestock transhumance to common graze-lands is a necessity as well as a cultural practice that enables the utilization of the entire ecosystem potentials.

Farming activities take place in the quintais (homegardens) and roças (cultivated areas/crop fields). Homegardens use agroforestry with a great diversity of vegetables while crop fields are larger areas based on rain fed crop-rotation practices where mainly tubers and cereals such as cassava, maize and rice are grown.

The traffic of people and livestock back and forth between the mountains and the sertão occurs seasonally following traditional practices and long-standing habits. These practices are critical to allow the ecosystems and landscapes to regenerate and get richer from the natural flows of seeds and genes.

Cultures, value systems and social organizations

As for the sempre-vivas flowers gatherers, flower gathering is the core identity element which brings together communities in different locations. Transhumance, biodiversity and the sempre-vivas flowers gatherers’ culture all come together to constitute the commons and the groups’ sense of belonging.

In this perspective, cultural manifestations are marked by seasonal variations and the agricultural calendar experienced by successive generations of these communities. In other words, the "sacred" is worshiped in religious rituals and has a direct influence on agricultural production and therefore on the harvest. Devotion and saints festivities are also propitious rites linked to good rain and a good harvest.

References to the use of common natural resources have to do with common-law rights, with access regulators and use that are known to and reaffirmed by the communities. Thus, land ownership in controlled by the families of the six communities involved through constant monitor in order to maintain community control over ancestral lands.  The communities are organized in community associations, and represented by the CODECEX, to protect collective interests and rights.

Landscape features

A mosaic of different interconnected ecosystems forms the landscapes of the site. At the highest altitudes at elevation above 1000m, the landscapes is made of rich grass lands where flowers are gathered and large animal herds graze in common use areas. Lower, between 700m and 1000m of altitude, the savannah or Cerrados, constitute the natural lands where edible and non-edible products are collected. Lastly, in the sertão, home gardens, crop fields and small livestock are seen taking advantage of the natural resources.