5 remarkable landscapes and lifestyles that you didn’t know existed

Time-tested traditions that help create a #ZeroHunger world

15 Dec 2017

The terraced hills of the Andes, the rice paddies of southern China, the oasis systems of the Maghreb: agriculture molds landscapes and places. Agriculture also shapes livelihoods, lifestyles, food traditions and cultures. What kind of plants grow or can’t grow, how they are harvested and what people eat define people’s lives. 

Because our natural resources are under great strain, we need look at and learn from places in the world where sustainability is a lifestyle. FAO has created a programme to recognize such unique places where people are living in harmony with the environment, adapting to harsh natural conditions, working with the land in traditional and sustainable ways and preserving biodiversity and natural resources. FAO has designated these places as Globally Important Agricultural Heritage Systems (GIAHS)

Here are 5 GIAHS that you might have never heard of

1. Ayu of the Nagara River in Japan

The Nagara River is one of the cleanest rivers in Japan. Its pristine waters house well-known river fish, like the Ayu, provide clean water to nearby communities and irrigate rice paddies and other fields. Both the river and its famous Ayu fish, are economically, historically and culturally connected to the region. The Ayu has great importance in the Japanese culinary culture and is cooked in various styles (including Ayu sushi). As such, this region safeguards the Ayu by placing strong restrictions on fishing and ensuring that the upstream forests are well-maintained, as that keeps the waters of the Nagara pristine, a necessity for the Ayu

The Nagara River is also a unique spot for tourism. Over 100 000 people visit this region every year to see traditional methods of fishing, one of which is called Cormorant Fishing. This method of fishing uses trained cormorant birds to dive into the water and catch swimming fish, carrying them back to the boat in their mouths. It is an ancient tradition that has changed little since its start in the 8th century. 

2. Andean Agriculture in Peru’s Cusco and Puno regions 

The stunning terraced slopes of the Cusco/Puno region are practically synonymous with travel to Peru. For more than 5 000 years, indigenous and local farmers in the Andean region have been using terraces to convert steep slopes into productive zones for growing crops and have maintained a great biodiversity of plant species, including a large number of native varieties of maize, potato and other Andean crops. The peoples of this region have adapted to the high altitudes of the Andes and farmed in sustainable and innovative ways, such as using systems that catch rain and heat it during the day. 

The indigenous peoples of these regions have a strong connection to “mother earth” (Pachamama) and to the hills, mountains, rivers and atmospheric phenomena that they feel represent local gods (apus). These beliefs create a natural respect and reverence for nature and the resources it provides. Indigenous peoples in this region not only feel solidarity with nature, they have a strong sense of community and often keep plots for communal use to support widows, orphans, the sick or others who do not have resources. 

3. Floating gardens in Bangladesh

In some parts of southern and central Bangladesh, floodwaters can remain for a prolonged period of time, preventing the use of land for traditional farming. In response, farmers have developed a unique system in which plants can be grown on the water. These “floating gardens” are made on organic beds of water hyacinth, algae and other plant compost. These gardens produce a variety of fruits and vegetables like melon, okra, gourd, cucumber, spinach and amaranth, and allow wetlands to grow crops almost all year round. Floating gardens are also about ten times more productive than similar-sized, land-based gardens and are environmentally-friendly as they do not require fertilizer or pesticides. 

4. Chiloé Island, Chile

Chiloé Island is a unique reserve of many native species of flora and fauna that are in danger of extinction; the archipelago’s remote location has meant the preservation of great biodiversity. Chiloé was traditionally known as “the Chilota culture of the potato” because the potato had been the fundamental source of sustenance, and therefore life, on these remote islands. At one time, there were between 800 - 1 000 native potato species grown in Chiloe. Today there are only 91. Potatoes are at the heart of many traditions, mythologies, beliefs and social practices, many of which can still be found today as part of the identity of the Chiloé people. 

Rural women historically carried out the biodiversity conservation activities in the small plots of their family vegetable gardens. They were responsible for gathering seeds of different varieties in their respective communities and maintaining this heritage. Not expressed in written texts, their knowledge, which has been passed on through the centuries, is invaluable. 

5. Maasai Pastoralist Heritage in Kenya and Tanzania

Maasai people are semi-nomadic agro-pastoralists, who raise animals such as cows, goats, sheep and buffalos. Having adapted their way of life to the arid dry lands of southern Kenya and northern Tanzania, Maasai communities live in tune with their environment and have a great understanding of nature especially in regards to climate and wildlife. These skills have been honed to survive in rugged environments. They rely heavily on the traditional knowledge and practices passed down over the centuries to be able to meet their food needs and carve out a livelihood. 

They have co-created and maintained the very landscape in which wildlife can thrive. Sharing forests and lands with wildlife, Maasai people only harvest what they need. These strong conservation values are reflected in the Maasai’s religious and cultural practices. Nowadays, Maasai people have also begun to get involved as guides in the Kenya and Tanzania’s wildlife tourism because of their great knowledge of the land and connection with wildlife.  

More unique spots

Since 2002, FAO has designated 38 sites in 17 countries as Globally Important Agricultural Heritage Systems. The GIAHS programme aims at achieving a balance between preserving traditional, cultural values and ecological diversity while allowing for the socio-economic development that leads to stable, decent livelihoods and sustainable agricultural systems.

Learn more about FAO’s GIAHS around the world.


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