Globally Important Agricultural Heritage Systems

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), Globally Important Agriculture Heritage Systems (GIAHS) are "outstanding landscapes of aesthetic beauty that combine agricultural biodiversity, resilient ecosystems, and a cultural heritage". GIAHS programme was started by FAO in 2002 when it began awarding such designations to selected sites across the world.

Globally Important Agricultural Heritage Systems

The idea behind identifying GIAHS is to increase understanding and awareness among the public regarding sustainable agricultural practices and to conserve the economic, environmental, and socio-cultural goods and services these systems provide to communities dependent on them, particularly the small and marginal farmers, indigenous populations etc.

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  • To identify the eco-friendly agricultural practices followed by local communities and to provide institutional support to such systems.
  • To undertake capacity building of local communities in the conservation and management of such agricultural systems.
  • Documentation and cataloguing of indigenous knowledge in agricultural systems.
  • To harness such systems for poverty alleviation and food security.
  • To incentivize the local population towards conserving such systems by measures such as eco-tourism, eco-labelling etc.
  • To mitigate the risks to biodiversity and traditional knowledge from climate change, land degradation, and other associated threats.
  • To promote the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity and local resources.

Components of GIAHS

GIAHS programme includes interventions and institutional support at three levels:

  • Local level - it supports the conservation and management of agricultural systems through the active involvement of local communities by undertaking sensitization programmes.
  • National level - it helps in streamlining and achieving convergence of various policies, schemes, and programmes which are aimed at conserving the agricultural systems and providing support to the local communities.
  • Global level - it provides a platform for the consolidation and dissemination of agro-biodiversity related knowledge across the world for effective conservation.

GIAHS sites in India

Koraput (Odisha)

  • It's famous for the cultivation of traditional varieties of paddy, pulses, millets, oilseeds, and vegetables.
  • The region is inhabited by several tribal groups such as Khonds and Bondas who practice poddhu (shifting) cultivation.
  • The region faces challenges such as loss of biodiversity due to shifting cultivation, soil erosion, and loss of habitat.
  • The communities living in this region face abject poverty and backwardness with low levels of literacy, a small size of landholdings, and large families.

Pampore (Kashmir Valley)

  • It's a prominent Saffron Heritage Site in India which also cultivates crops such as maize, pulses, lentils, fruits, and vegetables.
  • The communities here follow low-tillage agriculture and during the fallow season, fodder, fruit, and mulberry trees are grown along the edges of farmland which helps in the conservation of agro-biodiversity.
  • Water scarcity, climate change, the younger generation losing interest in agriculture etc., are some of the challenges faced by this region.

Kuttanad (Kerala)

  • It's a deltaic region with an area of around 900, where lowland rice cultivation is practised.
  • Rice cultivation takes place below the sea level, the only such site in India.
  • This unique technique was evolved by farmers here over 150 years ago.
  • It contributes towards biodiversity conservation and the ecosystem services generated provide livelihood security to the local communities.

Potential GIAHS sites in India

  • Ladakh - situated on the high altitude Tibet plateau, cultivation here takes place on four types of land viz., Zhing (cultivated land), Zhing Zhang (fertilized land), Rizhing (stony land), Thang Zhing (pasture land). Fruits such as apples, apricots, and walnuts are cultivated using an indigenous organic composting technique.
  • Raikas - a pastoral Camel herding community of Rajasthan. They combine crop cultivation during the rainy season with pastoralism during the dry season.
  • Korangadu - it's a silvopastoral system practised in the semiarid tracts of Tamil Nadu, including areas like Erode, Coimbatore, Karur, and Dindigul. The land is fenced with the help of a thorny, drought-resistant shrub known as "mullkiluvai". Without using chemical fertilizers, crop nutrients are supplied with the help of animal droppings and crops (such as Phaseolus Trilobus) which have high nutrient content.
  • Catamaran fishing by the local fishing communities of coastal Tamil Nadu. It provides a sustainable alternative to the commercial, exploitative, overfishing done by mechanized trawlers.
  • Soppina betta system is found in the Western Ghats of Karnataka. It's a self-sustaining system with rice cultivation which uses foliage and leaf litter as a natural fertilizer. The Soppina beta systems provide ecosystem services such as fuelwood, fodder, medicinal plants etc., to local communities.

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