About the Globally Important Agricultural Heritage Systems (GIAHS)
The Globally Important Agricultural Heritage Systems (GIAHS) is a project that was started in 2002 by the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (FAO, headquarters in Rome, Italy), a group that strives for food security.
The program was started in response to modern agriculture’s overemphasis on productivity, which has led to deforestation, polluted waters, and destruction of various cultures, landscapes, and biodiversity.
Despite the effects of modernization, there are traditional agricultural and farming systems that efficiently utilize the environment, various methods of maintaining biodiversity, and outstanding agricultural cultures and landscapes. The objective of GIAHS is to protect and conserve such agricultural heritage systems and pass them on to the next generation.
While the objective of the World Heritage Sites recognized by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) is to register and protect property such as ancient ruins, historical structures, and natural sites, the GIAHS aims to recognize and protect local agricultural systems.
The program recognizes sites around the world, and has registered 37 sites in 16 countries as of March, 2017.
Source: Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (FAO) website (English)
In a woodland environment with sparse flat lands, the people have sustained their livelihood through conifer timber production, shiitake mushroom cultivation using broadleaf trees, high-grade wagyu beef, tea leaves, and terraced rice fields.
The canal that was constructed for providing water throughout the high altitude slopes spans 500 km. Not only does it serve the purpose of irrigation, it drains rainwater and protects the local communities from natural disasters. There exists a cultural tradition known as kagura, which is a Shinto dance performed to pray for good harvest.
Most of the communities still offer the kagura dance, and is still passed on today as a means for the people to pray for a sound life in the tough, mountainous land.
Takachihogo-Shiibayama Mountainous Agriculture and Forestry System
The traditional field burnings held at Shiiba Village is considered to be a rare, one-of-a-kind example in Japan, though it was a common practice in the past. It is a cyclical farming practice where the areas to be burned are moved every year, and after various grains and beans are cultivated for four years, the fields are given a fallow period to restore the forest.
Timber production and development of the mosaic forest
In Morotsuka Village, the tradition of maintaining and managing the forests runs strong, and the village is one of the top areas of timber production in Japan. The unique patchwork pattern of conifers such as Japanese cedar, deciduous broadleaf trees used in shiitake cultivation, and evergreen broadleaf trees is known as the “mosaic forest.”
1,800 hectares of rice terraces and the 500 km mountainside irrigation canal
The Takachihogo-Shiibayama Site is one of Japan’s greatest terraced rice field areas, boasting a 500 km canal network and over 1,800 hectares of rice terraces.
Other traditional agricultural and forestry systems
The area has long conserved unique agriculture and forestry that has come about from the mountainous environment. Shiitake cultivation in Japan is said to originate here, it is Japan’s number one producer of kamairicha tea made from “mountain tea,” and limited numbers of wagyu beef cattle are carefully raised using roughage collected from nearby fields.
The bond of the locals and traditional culture
In the community formed through agriculture and forestry, traditional cultures such as kagura are passed down to create an even stronger bond between the people.
The area holds a vision of “Forestopia,” in hopes to utilize the rich woodland environment to create a thriving community. There is much emphasis put on nurturing human resources, and this has led to the establishment of Gokase Secondary School, which is Japan’s first public integrated middle and high school.