World farming heritage

World farming heritage

March 06, 2020

World farming heritage

In some areas of the world, the close relationship between humans and the environment where they live has given rise to complex systems in which agriculture, culture and biodiversity are an important legacy for the future.

They are called Globally Important Agricultural Heritage Systems (GIAHS) and are more than just conventional protected areas. These are officially defined as “remarkable land-use systems and landscapes rich in globally significant biological diversity that has evolved as the result of the co-adaptation of a community with its environment and its needs and aspirations for sustainable development”. There are already 52 GIAHS designated in 21 countries around the world and some are being evaluated in order to be included in the list of territories that also represent important resources of indigenous knowledge and culture. 

In Africa, for example, there are three, including places like the Maghreb oases and the dates of the Siwa oasis, in Egypt. In China, which alone has 15 sites, several areas of rice cultivation on traditional terraces are classified and protected. In Iran, the cultivation of grapes from the Jowzan valley (from which a highly prized dried raisin is made) and the production of saffron are considered traditional. In Italy, the Soave vineyards and Umbrian olive groves, between Assisi and Spoleto, are protected.

The beauty of these areas, combined with the resilience of ecosystems and a remarkable cultural heritage, translate into food security for millions of small farmers. However, these areas have been tested by numerous factors, including climate change and migration linked to economic difficulties that risk causing the collapse of family farming systems.

GIAHS come of age

Faced with this scenario, in 2002, at the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg, South Africa, FAO launched the global partnership initiative on the conservation and management of GIAHS

Since then and over the years, several areas have been identified which can fall within the definition of GIAHS and can consequently benefit from aid derived from the FAO project, the importance of which is recognized internationally. 

The main purpose of the program is to identify and safeguard protected areas and everything that revolves around them. To do this, long-term programs are put in place to support these systems with systematic support provided at three levels: global, to facilitate the recognition of these realities and to consolidate and share the lessons learned from local projects; national, to ensure that GIAHS are included in the sector plans and policies of the individual States; and finally local, where the project activities evaluate in detail the strategies for the conservation and adaptive management of the individual communities.

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