Global recognition for traditional farming systems in China, Iran and South Korea

FAO urges further protection of Globally Important Agricultural Heritage Systems for sustainability, food security, livelihoods and culture

1 May 2014, Rome – Six traditional farming systems in China, Iran and South Korea known for their unique characteristics and approaches to sustainability have been designated Globally Important Agricultural Heritage Systems (GIAHS) by FAO.

They include Iran’s Qanat Irrigation system, an ancient network of farms that have survived for nearly three millennia; a 22-thousand-kilometer system of black stone walls built from volcanic rock in Jeju, South Korea; and the traditional Gudeuljang Irrigated rice terraces in Cheongsando, South Korea.

Also on the list are a trio of sites in China: the unique Xinghua Duotian Agrosystem, famous for its method of water-land utilization; the historic Jasmine and Tea Culture System of Fuzhou City; and, the Jiaxian Traditional Chinese Date Gardens.

The sites were officially recognized during the 28-29 April meeting of the GIAHS Scientific and Steering Committee at FAO headquarters in Rome.

These new designations bring the number of GIAHS systems to a total of 31 sites located in 14 countries in Africa, Latin America and Asia. The sites are considered models of innovation, sustainability and adaptability, delivering important benefits to the ecosystem.

FAO’s Deputy Director General-Coordinator, Natural Resources, Maria Helena Semedo, called for designation of more such sites around the world and concrete action to improve conservation of, and sharing of knowledge from, their time-honored methods.

“Globally Important Agricultural Heritage Systems (GIAHS) have been forged over centuries, capitalizing on the accumulated experiences of rural communities and indigenous peoples across the world,” Semedo said, adding that it was fitting the systems were being recognized during the International Year of Family Farming.

“Besides providing multiple goods and services, food, and livelihoods security, GIAHS systems have resulted in the preservation of significant agro-biodiversity, resilient ecosystems, outstanding landscapes, and a valuable cultural heritage,” she said.

Conservation for a more sustainable future

The Globally Important Agricultural Heritage Systems (GIAHS) Partnership Initiative was launched by FAO in 2002 during the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg, South Africa.

FAO later began pilot GIAHS programs in six countries -- Algeria, Chile, China, Peru, the Philippines and Tunisia, starting in 2005. During the two-day meeting, participants reported on these pilot experiences and shared lessons learned through work conducted at the local and national levels on a range of interventions -- including capacity building and policy advocacy.

The Steering Committee considered new sites for potential inclusion in GIAHS and held extensive discussions on how to further develop GIAHS’ efforts. They also discussed strengthening and expanding the GIAHS sites and work program, in order to ensure the safeguarding and dynamic conservation of unique agricultural systems around the world.

GIAHS’ work with governments and communities is supported through FAO programs and grants from the Global Environmental Facility (GEF), the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), the Government of Germany, and other partners.

More about the new GIAHS sites

The new GIAHS sites include three in China, one in Iran and two in South Korea:

China - Jasmine and Tea Culture System of Fuzhou City

The Chinese people have cultivated jasmine for over 2000 years, but Fuzhou is famous for its jasmine due to its favorable climate and its invention of the tea-scenting method. Since jasmine and tea trees grow in different environments, the people of Fuzhou have shaped vertical landscapes in which they are able to grow both tea and jasmine on separate levels and in different microclimates in a vertical landscaping system.

China - Jiaxian Traditional Chinese Date Gardens

The Jujube is a unique date species native to China. Located in the Jinshaan Canyon at the middle reach of the Yellow River, the Jia Count is recognized as the place with the longest history of jujube cultivation, lasting more than one thousand years and including the whole process of domestication of the wild sour jujube to the cultivated plant. Jia County is prone to frequent drought, making the jujube trees “life-saving plants” for local families.  The fruit trees also play a key environmental role, preventing sandstorms and conserving water and soil on the sparsely vegetated plateau.

China - Xinghua Duotian Agrosystem

People call Xinghua the “city with a thousand islets,” due to its stunning network of raised, cultivated fields surrounded by water. The Xinghua area was located in low-lying land for centuries and suffered frequent floods from its many lakes. The people of Xinghua built the fields with wooden supports and stacks of mud, turning the ample water supply into an irrigation system.

Iran -  Qanat Irrigated Agricultural Heritage Systems of Kashan, Isfahan Province

The Qanat Irrigation technology and related knowledge system in Iran date back to at least 800 BC and the Kashan region has one of the oldest Persian agriculture systems irrigated by Qanats. The Qanat system has sustained food security and livelihoods by providing a reliable source of water to traditional family farmers in mostly dry areas, where farming would be impossible otherwise.

Korea – Cheongsando

In the 16th century, residents of the Cheongsando group of islands began using local stone to create a system of terraced rice fields that are irrigated by a unique, underground system. Faced with rocky, sandy soil and a scarcity of water, residents built the culverts as aqueducts that could both provide and drain away water. The Gudeuljang Irrigated Rice Terraces are found throughout Cheongsando, a group of 14 islands covering about 43 square kilometres. Farmers from different paddies join efforts in a cooperative-style system to maintain the infrastructure and to make decisions about communal water use.

Korea – Jeju

The volcanic island of Jeju is located in the southernmost part of the Korean Peninsula with sandy, rocky soil from which water tends to drain away. People used the stones in the soil to build a more than 22,000 kilometer-long series of fences as windbreaks and to stem the loss of water and soil, preserving local biodiversity in the process.

Protected by the Jeju Batdam walls, agriculture on Jeju Island has survived natural disasters for more than one-thousand years, though it now faces newer challenges like widespread urbanization.

Photo: Courtesy of GIAHS/Fuzhou Jasmine and Tea Culture System
The Globally Important Agricultural Heritage Systems (GIAHS) Partnership Initiative was launched by FAO in 2002.