Diverse agricultural systems and landscapes have been created, shaped and maintained around the world by generations of farmers and herders based on natural resources and management practices adapted to local areas. Building on traditional knowledge and experience, these agricultural systems reflect the evolution of humankind, the breadth of its knowledge, and its profound relationship with nature.
These systems have given rise to some of the most outstanding landscapes, created and maintained the global wealth of agricultural biodiversity, safeguarded traditional knowledge and resilient ecosystems, and ensured sustainable food security for millions of small-scale farmers and their communities.
In order to safeguard and support the world’s agri-cultural heritage (that is, a wider concept of culture taking agriculture as its base), the FAO started an initiative for the identification and dynamic conservation of Globally Important Agricultural Heritage Systems (GIAHS) in 2002. The GIAHS Initiative, which is now an official FAO Programme, promotes public understanding, awareness, and national and international recognition of Agricultural Heritage Systems over the world.
The program fosters an integrated approach to promote dynamic conservation, and aims to protect the social, cultural, economic and environmental goods and services which are central to the livelihood of family farmers, smallholders, indigenous peoples and local communities.
Since many of these GIAHS sites have faced threats and challenges which may potentially reduce their innate value, the GIAHS program aims to promote conservation, adaptive management and even development of the designated sites, or “dynamic conservation.” In this context, the GIAHS program shares common ground with Slow Food in its efforts to document and save food and agricultural products at risk of extinction.
The assessment and selection of GIAHS sites is based on the following criteria: the food supply and livelihood provided by the system, its agrobiodiversity, the traditional and adapted farming knowledge and techniques used, the cultural values contained therein, the presence of social organizations and the features of both the landscape and seascape.
The GIAHS designation confers international recognition of agri-cultural wealth on the countries which host such systems. GIAHS expects its member countries to propose an action plan in order to enact dynamic conservation on the site. These actions can differ from one site to another but they all aim to address the needs of the system and its community. These actions can cover technical support to community members as well as the development of protected areas, agro-tourism activities, the establishment of gene banks to conserve endemic and endangered varieties as well as the use of the GIAHS label to identify and promote traditional and healthy food.
Today there are 39 recognized sites across the world, covering a wide range of farming systems, ecosystems and cultures. All the sites can be consulted on the FAO website.
The Fourth International GIAHS Workshop took place in September 2017 in Beijing. This workshop was organized to encourage national governments to initiate, implement and manage GIAHS programs in their respective countries. About 30 participants from 23 governments and research institutions participated, learning the fundamental value of agriculture heritage through lectures, discussion, and field visits to the Chinese GIAHS sites, including one potential GIAHS site on the rice terraces in Guangxi Province, as well as the already-designated GIAHS site in the Aohan Drylands where millet is produced.
In addition, GIAHS member countries participated in the International Trade Fair of Beijing to exhibit local food productions from GIAHS sites as well as handcrafts and traditional production systems. Spain and Italy were present as observers, among several other European countries, and expressed interest in GIAHS. Italy has signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the FAO to get more involved in developing GIAHS in the country. Spain has already submitted two proposals including the Salt production in the Anana Valley, which has been registered on the Ark of Taste as an Indigenous product since 2006 and a Slow Food Presidium in 2012.
GIAHS is actively seeking to get more countries involved in the project and work towards its objectives of protecting, promoting, and ensuring the sustainably of traditional agricultural systems.