Dynamic Conservation of Traditional Agricultural Landscapes: The Challenge of the FAO's GIAHS programme
Today is a crucial time for agriculture which, in addition to the characteristic challenges inherent in the rural setting, is facing sudden climatic, environmental, social as well as technological changes. Its capacity to adapt to change is undergoing a severe test particularly with respect to certain production models. Notwithstanding the fact that the systems are sustainable per se, the impact on their internal balance is greater due to their interconnectedness with the natural cycles, leading to a great risk of loss of biodiversity, inappropriate use of natural resources and failing to remember the intrinsic values of what an agricultural ecosystem is.
We could indeed say that social and economic changes are behind the irreversible alterations in these very peculiar ecosystems. This is because cultural values that constitute the basis for the continuity of agricultural landscapes as systems are undergoing a profound transformation. The lack of economic viability of some forms of traditional production means that new generations are leaving, breaking the chain of transmission of specific know-how and traditional values and ending with the loss of the community’s identity with its surrounding environment.
Based on these assumptions, the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) created the Globally Important Agricultural Heritage Systems Programme (GIAHS) in 2002 in order to safeguard these types of traditional agricultural systems through international recognition of them as agricultural heritage and by implementing concrete actions at the national and local level for their dynamic conservation.
The focus of attention of the GIAHS programme is the agricultural community which receives this recognition because the landscapes, together with the ancestral production technologies used and their cultural values, are models of sustainability that can serve as time-worn lessons for facing current and future challenges.
Traditional agricultural systems must not be preserved in the manner of works of art in museums but must be recognized as examples of how human beings have been capable of adapting to all types of changes. They are laboratories of resilience that possess essential elements for the future. The dynamic nature of these extraordinary landscapes must be recognized and participative actions developed to ensure their continued existence and adaptation.