Three sites in China – an ancient tea-producing area, a nomadic livestock-rearing region and a rain-fed stone terrace farming system – were formally recognised as Globally Important Agricultural Heritage Systems (GIAHS), for their unique ways of using traditional practices and knowledge while maintaining unique biodiversity and ecosystems.
The sites were designated during a meeting of the GIAHS Scientific Advisory Group taking place in Rome this week (17-19 May). The selection criteria stipulate that sites must be of global importance, have value as a public good, supporting food and livelihood security, agro-biodiversity, knowledge systems, social values and culture culture as well as outstanding landscapes.
GIAHS, which is celebrating 20 years in October, is a FAO flagship programme. “GIAHS has proven its potential as a model of sustainable agriculture through its remarkable agro-ecological approach. It is a way to revitalize rural communities and promote rural development by utilizing their unique features embedded in the agricultural systems,” said FAO Deputy Director-General Maria Helena Semedo.
To date, a total of 15 sites in China have been added to the global agricultural heritage systems list. FAO’s worldwide agricultural heritage network now consists of 65 systems in 22 countries around the globe.
An ancient tea-producing area
Tea production in Anxi, located in southeastern Fujian province is believed to date from the 10th century, with its most famous tea, Tieguanyin, meaning Iron Goddess of Mercy, coming into existence in the 18th century. It belongs to the semi-fermented Oolong tea category between green tea and black teas.
Local farmers’ unique know-how includes well-honed practices for managing the natural environment to guarantee the best conditions for tea cultivation and the production of an exceptional quality tea leaf. These legacies have ensured the long-term stability and sustainability of the ecological systems of its tea plantations and embedded this emblematic product as part of the identity of the local communities.
A Grassland nomadic system
The Ar Horqin grassland nomadic system in northern China’s Inner Mongolia region is the first nomadic agricultural heritage area designated in China and an example for global sustainable animal husbandry and fragile grazing lands management. There is evidence of early inhabitants hunting and living a nomadic life in the area as far back as Neolithic times. More recently, the region’s largely ethnic Mongolian population has been able to preserve its traditional nomadic production and lifestyle while adapting to a changing environment.
The region has a variety of ecosystems, such as forests, grasslands, wetlands, rivers with important ecological functions. To adapt to the fragile grassland environment, the ancestors of today’s herders adopted a typical nomadic lifestyle. By constantly moving their grazing grounds, they ensured the protection of vegetation and rational utilization of water resources, avoiding soil degradation and overgrazing and bringing a steady supply of livestock products such as meats and cheese to local communities.
The Shexian Dryland Stone Terraced System
Located in northern China’s Hebei province, the Shexian Dryland Stone Terraced System is a rain-fed agricultural system dating back to the 13th century. Set amid the harsh environment of the region’s mountains, the stone terraced fields still play an important role in making agriculture possible on the steep slopes. Farming provides local people with a stable livelihood, and serves as a model for sustainable, ecological and cyclical agriculture in this northerly limestone mountainous area despite a lack of soil and rain.
The county is well-known for walnut and Chinese prickly ash, with millet, corn, soybean, black jujube and other agricultural and forestry products also cultivated on the terraces. With this variety of crops and using environmentally friendly farming techniques, local communities have managed to guarantee their food security and well-being over a period of hundreds of years, while shaping a remarkable landscape that bears witness to their ability to live in harmony with their environment.