Written by Parviz Koohafkan and Miguel A. Altieri.
The ancient Ifugao rice terraces of the Philippines are supported by indigenous knowledge management of muyong, a private forest that caps each terrace cluster and provides a biodiversity reserve and watershed functions. (Photo © FAO)
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 combinations of techniques and practices that have usually led to community food security, and the conservation of natural resources and biodiversity. Agricultural heritage systems can still be found throughout the world covering about 5 million hectares, which provide a vital combination of social, cultural, ecological and economical services to humankind. These “Globally Important Agricultural Heritage Systems-GIAHS” have resulted not only in outstanding landscapes of aesthetic beauty, maintenance of globally significant agricultural biodiversity, resilient ecosystems and a valuable cultural heritage. Above all, these systems sustainably provide multiple goods and services, food and livelihood security for millions of poor and small farmers. The existence of numerous GIAHS around the world testifies to the inventiveness and ingenuity of people in their use and management of finite resources, biodiversity, ecosystem dynamics, and ingenious use of physical attributes of the landscape, codified in traditional but evolving knowledge, practices and technologies. Whether recognized or not by the scientific community, these ancestral agricultural systems constitute the foundation for contemporary and future agricultural innovations and technologies. Their cultural, ecological and agricultural diversity is still evident in many parts of the world, maintained as unique systems of agriculture. Through a remarkable process of co-evolution of Humankind and Nature, GIAHS have emerged over centuries of cultural and biological interactions and synergies, representing the accumulated experiences of rural peoples.