he Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, in 2002, launched the project name “Globally Important Agricultural Heritage Systems (GIAHS)”,aimed at identifying worldwide sites characterized by the presence of agricultural, pastoral and forestry systems, created and managed over time by farmers and shepherds, through traditional practices adapted to the surrounding environment. GIAHS are remarkable land use systems and landscapeswhich are rich in globally significant biological diversity evolving from the co-adaptation of a community with its environment and its needs and aspirations for sustainable development. The aim of the initiative is to identify and safeguard farmers and agricultural landscapes that have survived using traditional techniques and are still providing many services to the ecosystem, a huge agrobiodiversity, ancestral knowledge transmitted through generations, and strong cultural and social values. Furthermore, food production practices associated to the quality of landscape and tourism, may represent a fundamental added value for the competitiveness of many rural areas not suited for industrial agriculture. This approach intends to contribute toa new vision for the future of the planet, integrating human society and the environment according to the sustainable development goals.
Considering the successful developments of the project, from 2015, based on the outcome of the 39th FAO Conference, GIAHS has become an official FAO corporate programme. Today the FAO Agricultural Heritage program includes 50 landscapes across the world and is the largest program of the UN dedicated to the protection of agricultural heritage.
The overall aim of the GIAHS Programme is to identify and preserve agricultural systems of global importance, with their landscapes, agro-biodiversity, traditional knowledge and associated culture. However, the aim is not only the preservation of these agricultural heritage systems, but to apply the principles of dynamic conservation in order to promote the sustainable development, with direct and indirect benefits for the community, making therefore the traditional landscape is the engine of rural development of these areas.
Registered sites in the GIAHS program must be of “global importance”. With this term, FAO intends to refer to all agricultural practices (a term that also includes animal, forest, marine and freshwater products) characterized by a historical origin and a current relevance, representing a heritage for the human race. The current relevance of agricultural practices is defined as the ability of such practices to provide food and livelihood to local communities, contributing to the well-being and quality of life.
In order to be registered in the GIAHS program, the proposed sites must satisfy the pevious conditions, which are summarized in 5 criteria:
1. Food and Livelihood Security.
The proposed agricultural system has to contribute to food and/or livelihood security of local communities. This includes a wide variety of agricultural types such as self-sufficient and semisubsistence agriculture where provisioning and exchanges take place among local communities, which contributes to rural economy.
The concept of agro-biodiversity is particularly important for the GIAHS Programme, and that in the last years has become of established importance for the scientific community and also for international organizations, so that UNESCO and CBD (Convention on Biological Diversity) have made it the object of a common program. Agricultural biodiversity, is defined by FAO as the variety of animals, plants and micro-organisms that are used directly or indirectly for food and agriculture, including crops, livestock, forestry and fisheries. It comprises the diversity of genetic resources (varieties, breeds) and species used for food, fodder, fibre, fuel and pharmaceuticals. It also includes the diversity of non-harvested species that support production (soil microorganisms, predators, pollinators), and those in the wider environment that support agro-ecosystems (agricultural, pastoral, forest and aquatic) as well as the diversity of the agro-ecosystems. The system should be endowed with globally significant biodiversity and genetic resources for food and agriculture (e.g. endemic, domesticated, rare, endangered species of crops and animals).
3. Local and Traditional Knowledge systems
The system should maintain local and invaluable traditional knowledge and practices, ingenious adaptive technology and management systems of natural resources, including biota, land, water which have supported agricultural, forestry and/or fishery activities.
4. Cultures, Value systems and Social Organizations
Cultural identity and sense of place are embedded in and belong to specific agricultural sites, and represent a heritage that has to be preserved. Social organizations, value systems and cultural practices associated with resource management and food production may ensure conservation, and promote equity in the use and access to natural resources and promote sustainable development. Traditional systems of social organization can effectively contribute to the resilience of local agricultural systems, balancing environmental and socio-economic needs.
5. Landscapes and Seascapes Features
GIAHS sites should represent landscapes or seascapes that have been developed over time through the interaction between humans and the environment, and appear to have stabilized or to evolve very slowly. Their form, shape and interlinkages are characterized by long historical persistence and a strong connection with the local socio-economic systems that produced them, being the result of the integration of food production, environment and culture in a given area or region. They may have the form of complex land use systems, such as land use mosaics, water and coastal management systems.