Human Activities and Ecosystem

Traditional Tea-grass Integrated System in Shizuoka as a GIAHS Site: Values and Conservation—Background of Application and Efforts after Registration

  • Hidehiro INAGAKI , 1, * ,
  • Yoshinobu KUSUMOTO 2
  • 1.Shizuoka University, Kariyado, Fujieda, Shizuoka 426-0001, Japan
  • 2.Western Region Agricultural Research Center, Ikano-cho, Zentsuji-shi, Kagawa 765-8508, Japan
* Hidehiro Inagaki,

Received date: 2019-03-05

  Accepted date: 2019-05-20

  Online published: 2019-10-11


Copyright reserved © 2019


The traditional tea-grass integrated system in Shizuoka is the first example of a Globally Important Agriculture Heritage Systems (GIAHS) site in Japan that was proposed by a local government. In this paper, we report the background and circumstances leading to the recognition of this system, its registration as a GIAHS, and its current use after registration. Although semi-natural grasslands have decreased considerably in Japan, we found unique semi-natural grasslands with no pest insects and a rich biodiversity around the tea fields. These grasslands and the farming method employed are known as “Chagusaba”, which was registered as a GIAHS in 2013. However, the registration process for GIAHS was not easy, as many local farmers do not understand the value of their traditional farming methods or the GIAHS honor. After registering Chagusaba as a GIAHS, our main agenda was branding. Traditional farming, with time and effort, produces high-quality tea. As labor saving technologies in agriculture have progressed in Japan, the price of high-quality tea has declined, and consequently, the numbers of farmers performing the inefficient traditional farming methods are decreasing. It is necessary to correctly brand the Chagusaba-grown tea and reflect the value of the traditional farming method in the price. The local government of the Shizuoka Prefecture is currently working on implementing a certification system, which includes scientific evaluation using GPS, and the introduction of biodiversity indicators.

Cite this article

Hidehiro INAGAKI , Yoshinobu KUSUMOTO . Traditional Tea-grass Integrated System in Shizuoka as a GIAHS Site: Values and Conservation—Background of Application and Efforts after Registration[J]. Journal of Resources and Ecology, 2019 , 10(5) : 511 -517 . DOI: 10.5814/j.issn.1674-764X.2019.05.006

1 Introduction

As markets have become increasingly international, the demands that global agriculture must be more efficient and save energy have greatly intensified. In addition, as agriculture modernizes, traditional agriculture is being lost. However, there are important benefits to traditional Japanese agriculture, which has long produced high-quality crops, not by cutting time and effort, but rather by expending it wisely.
Practiced in Shizuoka since long ago, “Chagusaba farming” is a traditional farming method for producing high- quality tea.
At one time, the farming mountains and villages in Japan had semi-natural grasslands called “kayaba” that predominantly grew Japanese silver grass for use as fertilizer for the fields, material for thatched roofs, etc. According to records from the year 1880, 30% of the land of Japan was covered with semi-natural grasslands1). However, when daily life started to modernize following the energy revolution, Japanese silver grass fell out of use and the semi-natural grasslands in the mountains and forests near villages decreased to only 1% of the country’s land (Ogura, 2006). There was also a significant loss of the native animals and plants that inhabited the semi-natural grasslands.
However, near the tea fields of Shizuoka prefecture, you can find the semi-natural grasslands, Chagusaba, which are still maintained today. From autumn to winter, after the grass has been cut and dried by the sun, it is spread out over the furrows of the tea fields in the traditional farming method known as “Chagusaba farming”, a technique that has been preserved since ancient times. The work of cutting the grass, bundling and drying it, and spreading it over the tea fields is still performed manually, which has a very heavy labor requirement. However, because the aroma and taste of the tea is improved by adding the grass to the tea fields, the tea farmers today still spend the time and effort to do so in order to produce the delicious tea. This work of the farmers has maintained the semi-natural grasslands and preserved their biodiversity.
Various animals of the village mountains and forests can be seen in the grasslands with plenty of sunshine that are maintained by the seasonal grass cutting. Also, many of the plants that can be found in the Chagusaba are those used for tea ceremonies; most notably the seven flowers of autumn, but also the sasa-yuri, Japanese gentian, Japanese toad lily, great burnet, and others. Tea production using “Chagusaba” has preserved the plants of the grass fields that continue to be lost elsewhere, and it has protected and passed down the “tea flowers”.
Agricultural and farming mountains and villages have been cited as protecting biodiversity. However, wildlife is often sacrificed in order to increase agricultural productivity. Conversely, agricultural productivity must sometimes be sacrificed in order to conserve wildlife. Chagusaba farming is one valuable example in which biodiversity has been preserved by the effort to increase agricultural productivity, in this case, of high-quality tea. In the past, high-quality tea that was produced with a great investment of time and effort was bought and sold at high prices. In recent years, however, as the demand for inexpensive tea sold in plastic bottles has increased, the value of high-quality tea has dropped, and the difference in price between high-quality tea and low-quality tea is shrinking. As a result, there are fewer and fewer farmers who continue to use the traditional method of Chagusaba farming.
In this paper, we describe the process of applying for Globally Important Agriculture Heritage Systems (GIAHS) status, and the changes and efforts that have occurred in Chagusaba farming after registration.

2 Process of applying for Globally Important Agriculture Heritage Systems status

When the pests of abandoned farmland were studied in a research project conducted in Shizuoka prefecture, the authors discovered that the vegetation was rich in plant biodiversity, without the occurrence of pests (Inagaki et al., 2008a; Inagaki et al., 2008b). But, actually, this was not abandoned farmland; it was a meadow where the remains of rice paddies were used for Chagusaba (Fig. 1). Chagusaba were originally located on sloping land. However, during the period between approximately 1965 and 1975, when the acreage of tea fields expanded there was a shortage of Chagusaba. As a result, many terraced rice paddies and, other agricultural fields that were no longer used as a result of acreage reduction policies were converted to Chagusaba. Later, a collaborative study between the Shizuoka Prefectural Institute of Agriculture and Forestry and the National Institute for Agro-Environmental Sciences showed that the Chagusaba were grasslands rich in plant biodiversity, containing 300 different species of grasses alone (Kusumoto and Inagaki, 2014; Inagaki and Kusumoto, 2015). When these research results were announced, both Japanese and foreign researchers began to visit the Chagusaba. The native residents initially thought: “Are the Chagusaba so rare?” and “Can’t they be found anywhere?” But as they saw how amazed foreign researchers were by the Chagusaba, the residents also gradually began to recognize the value of these very special grasslands.

Fig. 1 Classification of vegetation type in abandoned farmlands by TWINSPAN (two-way indicator species analysis)

The 10th Convention on Biodiversity (COP10), held in Nagoya in 2010, focused on “Chagusaba”, and in March of the following year, the Chagusaba was selected for the on-site inspection by the International Partnership for the Satoyama Initiative. The people of the region prepared a spectacular welcome for the guests by decorating the meeting site with flowers from the Chagusaba and preparing traditional regional food. However, that was planned for March 12, 2011, the day after the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake, and the excursion was canceled in light of the disaster. The native residents who had faced the world with such pride about their land appeared more despondent than ever before. When the authors saw this despondency, we came up with the idea to apply for Globally Important Agricultural Heritage Systems (GIAHS) recognition. GIAHS is an initiative that formally designates globally important farming methods which conserve biodiversity, landscape and culture, and is administered by FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization (Koohafkan and Altieri, 2011; GIAHS book editional and production committee, 2015). GIAHS have five mandatory criteria including: 1) food and livelihood security, 2) biodiversity and ecosystem function, 3) knowledge systems and adapted technologies, 4) culture, value systems and social organizations, and 5) remarkable landscapes, land and water resources, and management features (GIAHS book editional and production committee, 2015). As of 2019, a total of 57 sites in 21 countries, including 11 sites in Japan, have been designated as GIAHS sites (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, 2019).
I had always considered two farming methods to be GIAHS sites based on various studies of agroecology. One is this Chagusaba farming method, and the other one is wasabi cultivation, which was registered as GIAHS in 2018. When applying for GIAHS status for Chagusaba was first proposed, there were many voices of dissent: “We don’t need GIAHS.” This resistance was because the residents mistakenly believed that GIAHS registration would force even children to use very strenuous farming methods or that it would restrict structural improvements to the land and pesticide use. However, unlike the UNESCO World Heritage system, the GIAHS of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) promotes agriculture and land development; so GIAHS does not place restrictions or obligations on agricultural land use or pesticide use. As a clear explanation of these facts circulated throughout the community, popular support for GIAHS registration gradually began to develop. Initially, the opposition also included people who were deeply concerned about the future of the region. During the FAO visit, it was these opponents who firmly exclaimed, “Chagusaba farming was inherited from our ancestors and is the pride of the region. We will pass this onto future generations.” Thus, “The Chagusaba Farming Method of Shizuoka” was registered as a GIAHS across the five cities of Kawane-honcho, Shimada, Kakegawa, Kikugawa and Makinohara at the International Conference of the GIAHS, held in May 2013.
In this way, the registration of this area as a GIAHS site was based on the accumulation of our scientific data, and it is highly regarded scientifically in terms of biodiversity. However, on the other hand, the value assigned by the experts may be difficult for local farmers and local residents to understand. In addition, connecting the value of GIAHS, such as biodiversity and beautiful landscape, to the merits of farmers is an important challenge for this site.

3 Changes and efforts after registration

3.1 The GIAHS certification system

After GIAHS registration, the Certification System of Chagusaba Practitioners was established at the “Council for the Promotion of the GIAHS ‘Shizuoka Chagusaba Farming Method.’” As an indicator, this certification uses the effort and level of contribution of each farmer to maintaining the Chagusaba by cultivating biodiversity along with high-quality tea production activities. There are three levels of certification, expressed as the number of leaf marks, according to the ratio of Chagusaba acreage to the total managed tea field acreage (Fig. 2). Ownership of Chagusaba at 50% or more of the acreage of the tea field is recognized as the maximum rank of “three leaves” , ownership from 25% to less than 50% is recognized with “two leaves”, and ownership from 5% to less than 25% is recognized with “one leaf” .

Fig. 2 Three classification levels of farmers based on biodiversity contribution degree

The certification system of the Chagusaba in Shizuoka has two broad characteristics. The first is the practice of recognizing “people” as opposed to “tea.” Tea distribution is complicated. Crude tea is not directly sold to consumers. Rather, tea from multiple regions is blended together using “combination” technology, and the taste is adjusted in making the final product. The purpose of certifying farmers is so that the farmers implementing the GIAHS, and not the distributors and vendors who sell the product, receive the benefits of the GIAHS blend. This certification system evaluates the level of contribution to biodiversity (Fig. 3). It is not a guarantee of tea quality. However, according to the empirical evaluation that the taste of tea is improved by adding Chagusaba, certified tea has earned a certain reputation. The tea manufacturers that sell the tea of farmers who use the Chagusaba method and display the label “Chagusaba Farming Method” are certified based on this practitioner certification system. Also, the “farmers,” “tea manufacturers,” and companies are each certified according to a “support system,” the label for which is displayed either on manufactured products that use the tea or on the products of companies that support the Chagusaba farming method.

Fig. 3 Seal showing certification

The other characteristic of the certification system of the Chagusaba in Shizuoka is that certification is performed by scientific measurements using GIS. The certification of practitioners is evaluated by the ratio of acreage of Chagusaba to the acreage of the tea field. However, the Chagusaba plots typically lie scattered around the tea fields. Also, because the Chagusaba are on sloped land, the farmers themselves frequently do not accurately know their acreage. Thus, upon request, cities and towns confirm the Chagusaba site by making GIS measurements in order to accurately measure the acreage of the Chagusaba.
Among the sites of the GIAHS system, the certification system for practitioners of Chagusaba farming, which is based on the level of contribution to conserving biodiversity, has earned a reputation not only as the first example of such a system, but also as a very unique system.
However, we could point out that this certification system is also based on the pride of the farmers. The authors were initially opposed to creating this sort of certification system. The first reason was that the certification criteria are extremely strict. The work of cutting grass on a steep sloping mountain meadow, carrying it out, and spreading it around the tea fields is all manual work. The authors were worried that the establishment of such strict criteria would reduce the number of farmers participating in the system.
Another reason was the sense of discrimination among the farmers. There are farmers who implement Chagusaba farming and farmers who do not, with both working in the same regions and villages. The certification of Chagusaba farming would simultaneously differentiate Chagusaba farmers from farmers who do not use Chagusaba. There are also farmers often jointly own tea factories and produce crude tea. However, the strict certification of tea from Chagusaba farming could present the technical problem of having to differentiate Chagusaba farmed tea during manufacturing. Instead, the authors felt that it would be better to allow anyone to freely use the title of “GIAHS”, because then expansion could be improved, and the region as a whole would profit. However, this concern was groundless. Presently, none of the concerns of the authors have actually emerged.
The current certification system is incomplete with respect to preventing abuse. For example, if crude tea is produced at factories jointly owned by tea farmers, certification will be provided in units of the tea factories. In that case, if the farmers who do not implement Chagusaba farming are excluded from the group, the ratio of Chagusaba acreage to tea field acreage increases. However, as of the present time, this specific problem has never occurred. There are also regions that require adding Chagusa and assessing penalties. However, in the case of Chagusaba farmers who cannot add Chagusa because of sickness or old age, nearby farmers have managed this for them, so no penalties have actually ever been paid. In addition, there are many farmers who cannot participate in this strict certification system, but they have been glad when other farmers in their production districts became certified and they celebrated the GIAHS designation together.
The fact that no set ways of managing Chagusaba or implementing Chagusaba farming have been established is also a problem. As an extreme example, the act of cutting one blade of grass and adding it to a tea field would technically be considered Chagusaba farming. However, none of the farmers have ever skimped on the work that would be considered as legitimately adding Chagusa. With the current certification system, it can be said that the “farming village bonds” formed from exerting the effort to produce high-quality tea is supported by the “farmers’ pride” from exerting that effort without cutting corners on the hard work.
Because it is a strict certification system, the number of farmers that can participate in the GIAHS program is limited. The strict certification is necessary for properly assessing farmers who maintain traditional farming practices. On the other hand, this is one factor that interferes with the spread and popularity of the system. However, the authors also believe that the Chagusaba farming method has been maintained over the years not only because of the farmers who practice the method, but also because of the contributions of the farmers who do not. The farming method of spreading grass in tea fields has been practiced in tea producing regions throughout Japan since ancient times. However, because of the great effort it requires, it has gradually been falling out of use. Meanwhile, in the tea-growing prefecture of Shizuoka, competition among tea producing regions is fierce, and this competition has led to the continuing production of high-quality tea. Chagusaba farming has been widely practiced in this context. Chagusaba farming can be considered as a farming method that has been protected by the tea industry as a whole, including tea farmers and tea sellers who have selected the tea to be of high-quality with their own discerning eyes and tongues. At present, the function of the “Council for the Promotion of the GIAHS ‘Shizuoka Chagusaba Farming Method'" that was organized in the five cities has been transferred to the Shizuoka Prefectural Office, and activities with an even wider reach are being planned as part of the government's “City of Tea” initiative. Fig. 4 shows the change in farmers participating in the certification system and Fig. 5 shows the change in area of Chagusaba registration. The number of registered farmers increased from 2013 to 2015, when the system was becoming established. However, it has been decreasing since 2016. Because the process of tea distribution and processing is complicated, tea produced by Chagusaba farming is rarely sold directly. Therefore, registration of the GIAHS did not lead to an obvious rise in the price of tea. This lack of farmer’s economic benefits has hindered farmers’ participation.

Fig. 4 The change of participation among farmers in the certification system

Fig. 5 The change of area of registered Chagusaba

3.2 Evaluation of Chagusaba by farmers themselves and direct agricultural payment subsidy

There are many types of Chagusaba, and actually, the diversity of plant species has not necessarily been conserved in all Chagusaba (Kusumoto and Inagaki, 2014; Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, 2019). Therefore, in order to maintain the environment of the Chagusaba, biodiversity must be monitored. However, the concept of “biodiversity” and surveys of species diversity are not simple for farmers. Therefore the authors have suggested ‘Merkmal’ to the farmers. In other words, among the indicator plants strongly correlated with the diversity of plant species, the authors have selected three types of plants whose species are easily discernible for farmers and general residents: Serratula coronata, Adenophora triphylla, and Sanguisorba officinalis (Koohafkan and Altieri, 2011; Kusumoto and Inagaki, 2014). Presently, the determination of these indicator plants is used as the condition for receiving an environmental conservation type of direct agricultural payment subsidy, and it is mandatory for farmers. However, it is only the determination of indicator plants that is mandatory; which species of indicator plant does not matter. The Japanese silver grass and broad-leaf bamboo are the two most important for Chagusaba farmers, and they could care less about Chagusaba plants. The purpose of mandating the determination of indicator plants is to have the farmers themselves pay attention to the Chagusaba plants. If the farmers actually examine the indicator plants, they will be able to discover various flowering plants, many more than just the three species. Actually, finding more than three types of plants has become a source of pride among farmers, and in recent times, many farmers bring their cameras when they go to work in the Chagusaba.
An example of environmental payoff using indicator species can be seen in Germany. Meanwhile, in the U.K., the effort (action) of conserving biodiversity is regarded more highly than the indicator species of biodiversity (the result). The authors’ previous study showed that the history and records of the Chagusaba greatly affect the diversity of plants in the Shizuoka prefecture Chagusaba. Also, the diversity between regions and the diversity between fields (beta-diversity) are high, so the diversity of a region is believed to contribute to the biodiversity as a whole. Therefore, it is difficult to evaluate the efforts of a single farmer only according to the presence of indicator plants. Thus, we believe that mechanisms for evaluating the action of managing the Chagusaba are more appropriate than evaluations based on specified plant species. Unfortunately, few farmers actually receive environmental payments because of other restrictions, such as participation in GAP (Good Agricultural Practice).

4 Conclusions

Local people in the Higashiyama district of Kakegawa city, the central area of the GIAHS, have created PR posters for introducing Chagusaba farming to the world. What kind of posters did the farmers of the region create?
Surprisingly, those posters showed neither Mt. Fuji, the symbol of Shizuoka prefecture, nor the scenery of the tea fields (Fig. 6). The images largely portrayed in those posters were the old woman who has been protecting the Chagusaba since long ago, the woman who is protecting the Chagusaba today, and the children who will probably become the protectors of Chagusaba farming in the future. Each poster shows a picture taken by the farmers themselves. Looking at these posters, I had the strong sense that these people understood what is important to the GIAHS. What is most important for a GIAHS is not the biodiversity or the beautiful scenery. The biodiversity and beautiful scenery are protected only because of the agriculture and life in the agricultural villages. What is most important for a GIAHS is the “people,” and that is what these posters have eloquently taught me. Now, the young generation who previously hated the time-consuming traditional farming method is making an effort to convey the Chagusaba farming method to the next generation.

Fig. 6 The posters of GIAHS cite of Chagusaba farming created by the local farmers themselves

It is very unfortunate that this site has not found any economic benefits from registration of GIAHS. However, I believe that registration of GIAHS is definitely strengthening the pride of the local farmers.
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