Three sites in Japan have been added to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization’s list of areas with traditional farming systems that should be passed on to future generations, the Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ministry said Tuesday.
Inscribed on the FAO list of Globally Important Agricultural Heritage Systems, or GIAHS, were upstream and midstream areas of the Nagara River in Gifu Prefecture, the Minabe-Tanabe area in Wakayama Prefecture and the Takachihogo-Shiibayama area in Miyazaki Prefecture.
The three sites, together with one in Bangladesh, were officially recognized as GIAHS at a joint meeting of the GIAHS Steering and Scientific Committee at the FAO headquarters in Rome on Tuesday.
The Nagara River areas are known for their inland fisheries, which mainly produce ayu (sweetfish).
One of the cleanest rivers in Japan, the Nagara River “provides a number of ecosystem services,” the FAO said.
“Various components of the system such as river, forests and farmlands are closely linked to each other,” it added.
Local communities have lived within these linked ecosystems and developed their livelihoods and cultural practices, it said.
The Minabe-Tanabe area has a system to produce high-quality ume Japanese apricots sustainably on nutrient-poor slopes.
People there have created a thriving ume production environment “by maintaining upper coppice forests for landslide prevention and maintenance of water, and Japanese honeybee for pollinators,” the FAO said.
In the steep mountainous Takachihogo-Shiibayama area, local people have established “a distinctive and sustainable system of agriculture and forestry,” which balances timber production with diverse farming activities including rice growing, shiitake cultivation, beef cattle raising and tea cultivation on terraced fields, the FAO said.
The forest there is maintained as a “mosaic” of conifers and broad-leaf trees using traditional practices, it added.
The three sites join five others already inscribed on the GIAHS list. Also among them is Sado Island in Niigata Prefecture, which was registered in 2011. The list has a total of 36 sites around the world.
“In the context of today’s environmental and economic challenges and climate change, small-scale and family farmers, and especially traditional agriculture, can offer real solutions for food security, the conservation of natural resources and sustainable rural development, if adequate policies and investment are directed to them,” FAO Deputy Director-General Maria Helena Semedo said.
Gifu Gov. Hajime Furuta, who was at the presentation ceremony, said he felt relieved that the region was selected.
“We owe this success to the united efforts of all the people concerned,” Furuta said.
Shunji Kono, governor of Miyazaki Prefecture, made a presentation on the importance of developing agriculture in harmony with nature. He spoke dressed in kimono and pleated hakama trousers.
“I would like to thank people of the past generations for their longtime efforts,” Kono said, adding he is determined to hand down the experience to younger generations.
Wakayama Gov. Yoshinobu Nisaka said he hopes the recognition as agricultural heritage will help promote the region’s ume industry.
Mayuka Miyazaki, an 18-year-old high school student from Gokase, Miyazaki, who represented the region in its bid for heritage listing, said in her speech that young people feel uncertain about their future as the area is losing its population. To be recognized as an agricultural heritage would give them confidence and hope, she said.
“Our role is to continue our practice diligently day by day,” said Junji Yamashita, 76, a cormorant fisherman whose profession uses trained birds on leashes to catch fish along the Nagara River in Gifu. The practice is said to date back 1,300 years.
Yamashita added he would like to pass this tradition to his grandchildren’s generation.
“I believe what has been recognized is the quality of the river’s water and high quality of the ayu sweetfish,” said Yoshio Okumura, 79, of the local fishermen’s association.
The FAO launched the GIAHS project in 2002 during the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg.