‘Satoyama’ concept gets major boost

Traditional land use practices advanced at Nagoya event

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NAGOYA — Traditional Japanese land and marine conservation and utilization efforts known as “satoyama” and “satoumi” can serve as examples of how other nations can preserve and protect ecosystems and biodiversity, two symposiums at the COP10 meeting in Nagoya heard Tuesday.

A total of 51 organizations joined hands Tuesday to launch an international platform to pursue sustainable use of traditional landscapes and protect biodiversity in satoyama woods and farmlands.

In the satoyama concept, human help plays a vital role.

At the launch ceremony, held as a side event of the 10th Conference of the Parties of the Convention on Biological Diversity, members of the International Partnership for the Satoyama Initiative said they will cooperate to consolidate the wisdom of securing the values and the services of ecosystems.

The member groups will meet for the first time in February or March in Japan, an Environment Ministry official said, though the details have yet to be decided.

Under the initiative, the partnership will also work to explore new forms of managing satoyama farmlands and forests by integrating traditional knowledge and science, they said.

“When you walk alone, you can go very fast. But together, we can go very far,” said Kalemani Jo Mulongoy, principal officer of the Division of Scientific, Technical and Technological matters of Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity, at the launch ceremony.

Members of the initiative include international organizations and NGOs, local governments such as Aichi, Ishikawa and Hyogo prefectures, as well as a few corporations involved with biodiversity issues.

At a separate symposium, Japanese and international experts on satoumi explained the concept and how it can benefit marine biodiversity preservation efforts.

The concept of satoumi is defined by the Environment Ministry as a coastal zone managed and integrated in a comprehensive manner by human hands, resulting in a high level of biodiversity.

It is based on ancient coastal area management techniques, but a growing number of Japanese communities have begun embracing it in recent years as fishing grounds collapse due to overfishing and climate change, and as the negative environmental effects after decades of construction of concrete roads, bridges and dams around beaches and tidelands become apparent.

A recent United Nations University-led study focused on nine areas of Japan where local communities have taken the lead in restoring coastlines under satoumi practices.

Tomoya Akimichi, of the Kyoto-based Research Institute for Humanity and Nature, presented the results of a case study in Akita Prefecture to protect seaweed beds that serve as spawning grounds for sandfish.

In the early 1990s, the number of sandfish drastically declined but is now making a comeback after satoumi practices were introduced.

Fishermen’s unions enjoy many legal rights in Japan that often make it hard for local communities to introduce satoumi practices before a crisis occurs. Akimichi noted this was the case in Akita, but that the fishermen’s union was quite supportive afterward.

“The ominous warning from the story of ‘hata hata’ (sandfish) fishing in Akita is that consensus could not be reached until after the collapse of the fisheries. The positive lesson is that, in the face of many challenges, sustained effort for dialogue with local fisheries cooperative organizations, energetic involvement of scientists and political will eventually allowed rapid progress toward more sustainable fishing practices,” he said.