Since 2012, the Global Forum for Agricultural Research (GFAR) has been supporting an initiative to safeguard and support the world’s agri-cultural heritage systems. The Globally Important Agricultural Heritage Systems (GIAHS) Initiative arose out of the World Summit for Sustainable Development in 2002 in Johannesburg. Its aim is to identify, revitalize, and promote international recognition of unique traditional agricultural systems around the world and the contribution they can make to food and livelihood security of family farmers and indigenous peoples.
For millennia communities of farmers, herders, fishers, and forest people have developed complex, diverse, and locally-adapted agricultural systems. These systems have been managed with time-tested, ingenious techniques and practices that have led to community food security, the conservation of natural resources, and biodiversity. Agricultural heritage systems can still be found throughout the world, providing a vital combination of social, cultural, ecological, and economical services. The GIAHS Initiative has resulted in landscapes of aesthetic beauty, globally significant agricultural biodiversity, resilient ecosystems, and valuable cultural heritage. Above all, these systems sustainably provide multiple goods and services, food, and livelihood security for millions of poor and small farmers.
Thomas Price, from GFAR, is the Chair of the GIAHS Scientific Committee. Price points out that “smallholder farmers, as the stewards of biodiversity and traditional agriculture systems, are still providing food for two billion people today. In line with GFAR putting the farmer at the center of agricultural research for development, GIAHS’s work in supporting smallholder farmers achieving food and livelihood security is of vital importance”.
Since its inception, the GIAHS Initiative has designated 31 GIAHS sites in 13 countries. It has drawn global attention to the need of preserving and using humanity’s agricultural heritage, and demonstrated that dynamic conservation can be achieved through raising awareness of the intrinsic values of GIAHS.
The GIAHS Initiative has project interventions in Algeria, Azerbaijan, Bangladesh, Chile, China, Ethiopia, India, Indonesia, Iran (Islamic Republic), Japan, Kenya, Mexico, Morocco, Peru, Philippines, Sri Lanka, Tanzania, Tunisia, and Turkey. In these countries, adaptive management approaches assist national and local stakeholders in the dynamic conservation of their agricultural heritage systems. Recognition and promotion of these systems as solutions to food security, sustainability of rural landscapes, and viability of rural communities through employment and economic diversification at local and national level. China has become a champion of agriculture heritage through development of a national system that now extends to over 30 sites in the country, building on the joint initiatives of local communities, authorities, and research.
The GIAHS Initiative continues to promote intervention strategies at three distinct levels. At the global level, it facilitates international recognition of the concept of GIAHS as a haven for globally significant agro-biodiversity, and will continue to consolidate and disseminate lessons learned and best practices from activities at the country level from designated sites. At national level, its activities ensure the mainstreaming of the GIAHS concept in sectoral and inter-sectoral plans and policies. At local level, activities address conservation and adaptive management of communities in collaboration with government, civil society, private sector, research, and other actors.
While these achievements have been made possible through sponsorship and collaborative ventures, GIAHS is now looking to evolve from an initiative into a fully-fledged international program under leadership from the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). The next stages in the evolution of GIAHS were discussed in depth at a two-day international meeting in Rome, 27-28 January 2015. The meeting sought guidance from GIAHS experts on how to best present GIAHS at the upcoming meetings of FAO governing bodies. From the perspective of the GFAR, Price views the outcome of this meeting as “a major milestone, as GIAHS moves from being an initiative with strong support in many countries and major global institutions, to becoming a program integral to FAO’s work. GIAHS will influence the kinds of policies needed at country level to galvanize the stakeholders and resources required to make these systems catalysts for rural development and attractive to youth. This is about finding innovative solutions and joined up opportunities to the benefit of both urban and rural peoples. Agricultural heritage is about the future, building on the achievements and wisdom of the past.”