Regional Development

Protecting Important Agricultural Heritage Systems (IAHS) by Industrial Integration Development (IID): Practices from China

  • ZHANG Yongxun , 1 ,
  • HE Lulu , 2, *
  • 1. Institute of Agricultural Economics and Development, Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences, Beijing 100081, China
  • 2. College of Humanities and Development, China Agricultural University, Beijing 100094, China
*HE Lulu, E-mail:

ZHANG Yongxun, E-mail:

Received date: 2021-01-25

  Accepted date: 2021-04-03

  Online published: 2021-09-30

Supported by

The Agricultural Science and Technology Innovation Program(ASTIP-IAED-2021-06)

The Agricultural Science and Technology Innovation Program(STIP-IAED-2021-ZD-02)


With Globally Important Agricultural Heritage Systems (GIAHS) increasing in number around the world, their conservation has become a new international research theme. From the perspective of combining theoretical analyses and practical case applications, this study examines the Important Agricultural Heritage Systems (IAHS) conservation pathways and operation mechanisms through industrial integration development (IID). First, the theoretical framework of IID in IAHS sites was constructed according to the requirements of IAHS conservation, which include analyses of the connotation and basic principles of IID, the necessity of IID for IAHS sites, the resource conditions, and the IID pathways. And then based on the theoretical framework, the IID of Longji Terraces in Guangxi, Honghe Hani Rice Terraces System in Yunnan (HHRTS), Aohan Dryland Farming System in Inner Mongolia (ADFS), and Huzhou Mulberry-dyke & Fish-pond System (HMFS) in Zhejiang are analyzed systematically. The main finding is that IID is an effective pathway for IAHS conservation. However, the IID in IAHS sites must stress the ecological and cultural values of the resources; IID should be based on local resource advantages; and IID should attach importance to the combination of different policies and coordination between different stakeholders.

Cite this article

ZHANG Yongxun , HE Lulu . Protecting Important Agricultural Heritage Systems (IAHS) by Industrial Integration Development (IID): Practices from China[J]. Journal of Resources and Ecology, 2021 , 12(4) : 555 -566 . DOI: 10.5814/j.issn.1674-764x.2021.04.013

1 Introduction

Modern agriculture characterized by high chemical inputs has generated many problems globally, such as agrobiodiversity loss (Lam et al., 2013; Liu et al., 2013), farmland environment degradation (Guo et al., 2010), and diversity reduction of agricultural landscapes (Firbank et al., 2008). Under that background, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) launched the Globally Important Agricultural Heritage System (GIAHS) initiative in 2002 to protect those traditional sustainable agricultural systems around the world. Through the efforts of FAO and some countries for 18 years, the GIAHS program has been adopted by an increasing number of countries and international organizations. At the end of 2020, there were 62 GIAHS sites distributed in 22 countries, with 15 new GIAHS proposals from nine different countries under review (FAO, 2021). With the multi-value and brand effect of GIAHS understood by country, the number of GIAHS in the world is rapidly increasing. Many countries, such as China, Japan, and Korea, have initiated national-level Important Agricultural Heritage Systems (NIAHS) (Zhang et al., 2017). Figuring out how to effectively protect these IAHSs has become a problem that has to be dealt with. Agriculture in IAHS sites is usually small-scale and conducted by human power and traditional approaches. It has a far lower economic benefit than highly-efficient and large-scale modern agriculture. IAHSs are being threatened by farmland abandonment and changes in farming methods (Ge et al., 2012; Zhang et al., 2016; Yang et al., 2019). IAHS conservation is a challenging issue for researchers and related government agencies in IAHS sites.
Currently, IAHS conservation measures have been practiced by IAHS countries, which include building ecological compensation mechanisms (Liu et al., 2014a; Liu et al., 2018a), developing supporting policies like special conservation funding (Yang et al., 2017), setting up inheritor systems of heritages (Cao et al., 2017), branding GIAHS products (Liu et al., 2014b; Inagaki and Kusumoto, 2019), promoting Industrial Integration Development (IID) (Zhang et al., 2018), and building ecomuseums to protect IAHSs (Lee et al., 2016). Some scholars have also proposed making IAHS laws to define the ownership of IAHSs and rights and interests in IAHS conservation (Wu, 2011; Wang, 2017). As resources, IAHSs have more advantages than conventional agriculture, such as the qualities of agricultural products, food flavors, cultural values, ecological values, social values and aesthetic values of the landscapes (He et al., 2010; Zhang and Shen, 2016). Developing compound industries which consist of special agriculture, agricultural product processing, tourism and relevant services depending on these resources is regarded as a sustainable pathway for IAHS conservation (Yu et al., 2018; Zhang et al., 2018). This pathway can improve farmers’ income by providing diverse employment and enhancing the profit rate of agricultural products per unit. As one of the sponsor countries of GIAHS, China has conducted many practices exploring GIAHS conservations through IID (Zhang et al.,2016; Zhang et al., 2018; Zhang et al., 2019). Many IAHS sites have built their own successful models of IID. Some typical cases can contribute successful Chinese experiences to other GIAHS countries to promote their IAHS conservation. Therefore, this study proposes a theoretical framework based on the GIAHS conservation requirements proposed by FAO, numerous case studies and relevant literature reviews, and introduces different types of successful models of IID cases. It is hoped that this study will provide some implications and references for researchers and GIAHS managers.

2 The theoretical framework of IID in IAHS sites

2.1 Connotation of IID and IID principles in IAHS sites

2.1.1 Connotation of IID in IAHS sites

According to GIAHS conservation requirements, IAHS must play an important role in maintaining the livelihood of indigenous households and protecting agricultural biodiversity and the biodiversity of related species, traditional knowledge and technologies about agriculture, traditional culture, values and organization, and traditional agricultural landscapes (FAO,2021). IAHSs as living, dynamic, compound agricultural production systems must be maintained through the production activities conducted by farmers according to indigenous traditional cultivation methods. Based on these conditions, IID in IAHS sites can be defined by five criteria. 1) IAHS conservation is the precondition of industrial development and the eventual goal; 2) Indigenous farmers are the main protectors participating in industrial development; 3) The target of industrial development is to improve the income of indigenous residents; 4) Local resources must be developed creatively based on analyses of temporal-spatial characteristics, quantity and quality, industrial bases, and agglomeration effects and industrial distributions; 5) Building an appropriate organization mode and the operation mechanism for the site to realize the organic integration of agriculture, secondary industry and tertiary industry. IID in IAHS sites aims to release the economic development potential and to improve the living standard of indigenous residents through a series of measures for industrial development, and then to promote effective IAHS conservation.

2.1.2 IID principles in IAHS sites

The IAHS is a complex system that consists of natural, economic, social, and cultural systems. The agricultural production system was created by local people based on the natural environment in the IAHS sites. The economic, social, and cultural systems are formed under the natural environment, thus they enjoy local features of the IAHS sites. These sub-systems of IAHSs must be protected according to their traditional features. As a result, IAHS conservation through IID must abide by certain principles, or else the IAHSs may be destroyed by development. Based on the requirements of IAHS conservation proposed by FAO, the IID in IAHS sites should include five principles.
(1) Conservation is the premise of IID. Industrial development aims to promote IAHS conservation. Any type of IID cannot be implemented at the cost of IAHS destruction.
(2) Agriculture is the base of any other industry. Any other industries are developed based on the agriculture. Those industries should be closely related to the agriculture, such as agricultural sightseeing, food processing, or the hospitality industry for agro-tourism. Those industries irrelevant to agriculture and destroying the local environment should be banned.
(3) Indigenous residents are the main part of the employment. Indigenous residents, as the persons growing up in the IAHS sites, better understand the connotations and characteristics of the IAHSs. They usually have a deep affection towards these IAHSs. They are the main protector and should be the beneficiary. In the IID, these indigenous residents should be considered first as employees.
(4) Industries should reflect local features. IAHSs are usually a class of traditional agricultural systems that reflects local cultures, agricultural production features, the geographical environment, and the natural resource characteristics. Therefore, IID should be based on the resources in the IAHS sites. The industries that may destroy IAHS or impact features of IAHSs should not be developed in IAHS sites.
(5) Industries should be sustainable in the economic, social, and environmental dimensions. In IAHS sites, IID are the drivers promoting IAHS conservation, rather than the eventual aim. These industries are developed on the condition of their sustainability in the economic, social, and environmental dimensions.

2.2 Necessity of IID for IAHS sites

Studies on IAHS sustainability have shown that the low benefit of traditional agriculture is the biggest challenge for IAHS conservation (Zhang and Shen, 2016; Ma, 2019). One result of the low benefit is that farmers in IAHS sites have begun to replace traditional agricultural production approaches with new agricultural technologies to save the labor input. For earning more money to meet the increasing living expense, the surplus labor in IAHS sites flows into large cities to work on non-farm jobs (Ma, 2019). At present, IAHS sites are facing two problems: the first one is the traditional landscapes that can reflect local traditional agricultural characteristics and traditional culture are changing due to the abandonment of traditional agricultural technologies; and the second one is the traditional rural social structure changes due to population outmigration (Fig. 1). These problems may give rise to qualitative changes of the whole IAHS if they are not dealt with fundamentally. According to the requirements of IAHS conservation by FAO, all the elements including traditional landscapes (agricultural landscapes, folk houses, etc.), local knowledge and technologies, multiple ecosystem functions, traditional culture (traditional lifestyles, folks, etiquettes, cuisines, etc.), and its livelihood function must be adequately protected or maintained (FAO, 2021). Maintaining the landscape structure and stabilizing the social structure of IAHS sites are critical tasks for IAHS conservation. In response to the problems, IAHS sites must develop the economy to retain the population. Therefore, it is necessary and an effective pathway that promoting IID depends on the local special resource advantages in IAHS sites.

2.3 Resource conditions of IAHS sites for IID

Although IAHS sites confront pressures from heritage conservation, they have the advantages of their resources and brands. IAHS sites usually enjoy lots of special and rare resources (Fig. 1), for example, beautiful agricultural landscapes, special agro-products, clean environments, local traditional cultures, and wild organisms. These resources enjoy higher economic values than those in modern agricultural areas under the current industrialization age. In some IAHS sites, these resources have been developed and have generated tremendous economic value. A series of industries developed based on the resources can absorb lots of local surplus labor and attract the population who had left for non-farm jobs to work in their hometown (Zhang et al., 2019). For example, Longji Terraces as a GIAHS is a beautiful agricultural landscape, which has been become a famous tourist attraction in China. In 2018, they welcomed approximately 1.45×106 tourists. Longji Terraces tourism provides employment opportunities not only for villagers in the IAHS site but also other people outside of the IAHS site (Zhang et al., 2019). Red rice grown in Hani Terraces, Honghe Prefecture, Yunnan Province is better than white hybrid rice grown in this place. The red rice has 3-5 times the calcium and magnesium content as the white hybrid rice (Xia and Shen, 2014). Hani culture attracts lots of tourists to visit the Hani terraced region (Zhang et al., 2016). The Rice-Fish coculture system in Qingtian County, Zhejiang Province shows obvious ecological sustainability due to positive interaction between fish and rice in the growing process (Xie et al., 2011). Overall, IAHS sites have better resource conditions for IID.
Fig. 1 Needs of IID, necessity, and resource conditions in IAHS sites

2.4 Pathways of IID in IAHS sites

For IAHS sites, IID is limited by conservation requirements, which must observe the five principles stated above. As a result, the pathway of IID in one place is different from those in other places. Generally, the pathways of IID in IAHS sites can be subdivided into three types (Fig. 2): 1) Integration of a primary industry and a secondary one, which combines crop farming, forestry, animal husbandry, or fishery with the processing and manufacturing based on the agriculture, for example, food processing, food manufacture, handcraft processing, and the industries for agricultural production materials, and so on; 2) Integration of a secondary industry and a tertiary one, which combines the secondary industry based on agriculture (e.g., agro-products processing, food manufacture, etc.) and the tertiary industry serving the secondary industry (e.g., product marketing, technology services for processing and manufacturing, machinery equipment maintenance, logistics, etc.); 3) Integration of a primary industry and a tertiary one, such as combining crop farming, forestry, animal husbandry, or fishery and the industries relying on agriculture such as rural tourism, cultural creation, scientific research, studies and learning, or outdoor sports.
Fig. 2 Pathways of IID in IAHS sites
Owing to the differences of resources, industrial bases, or accessibility, the different IAHS sites usually present different models of IID such as agriculture-processing- rural tourism, agricultural-processing and manufacture-e- commerce, or agricultural-processing and manufacture- studies and learn ing. In fact, when integration of the primary and secondary industries is the main form of IID in one IAHS site, the integration of the secondary and tertiary industries or integration of primary and tertiary industries may be the main form of IID in another IAHS site. For example, Longji Terraces in Guangxi is characterized by an integration of agriculture and rural tourism; Honghe Hani Rice Terraces System (HHRTS) in Yunnan features an integration of agriculture, products processing and e-commerce; the IID characteristic of Aohan Dry Farming System in Inner Mongolia (ADFS) is the integration of agriculture, products processing, and comprehensive marketing; Huzhou Mulberry-dyke & Fish-pond System (HMFS) in Zhejiang focuses on the development of agriculture and studies and learning of a traditional culture. They have formed their distinctive industries, and they will be introduced in detail one by one below.

3 Cases of IID in IAHS sites

3.1 Agriculture & tourism: The practice of Longji Terraces in Guangxi

3.1.1 Features of Agricultural Heritage System

Longji Terraces are in Longji Town, Longsheng Various Nationalities Autonomous County, Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, which is located in the southwest foothill of Yuechengling Mountain near the northern boundary of Guangxi. Longji Terraces are distributed in the hillside with elevations ranging from 300 to 1180 m. Forests are on the top of the mountains, which provide water for villagers’ living and farmland irrigation. Villages are seated in the terraces. Under the terraces are rivers. They typically constitute a magnificent and beautiful landscape and a sustainable human-nature compound system. In Longji Terraces, crop farming is characterized by red glutinous rice planted by human power. Feng Chicken, Cui Duck, and Longji Pepper are designated as National Products of Geographical Indication of China. Most people belong to Red Yao and Zhuang Nationality, with just a small proportion of them being Han, Dong, or Miao. Longji Terraces maintain the traditional farming culture and minor nationality culture to the present. In 2014, they were designated by the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs of China (MARA) as China-Nationally Important Agricultural Heritage Systems (China-NIAHS). In 2018, Longji Terraces and other three terraces in different provinces of China parceled as an integrated unit were designated by FAO as GIAHS (FAO,2021). Using the advantages of special resources, like the terraced landscape, featured agro-products, and minority cultures, the Longji people developed tertiary industries such as farming experience activities, terraced sightseeing, restaurants, hotels, and retail outlets of featured products, etc. These industries provided local villagers with employment opportunities and improved their income. The terraces received protection as well through the integrated development of agriculture and tourism.

3.1.2 Pathway IID promoting IAHS conservation

Longji Terraces began to develop rural tourism in the 1990s. However, conflicts frequently arose in tourism development due to benefit imbalances among the different stakeholders. In 2004, when scientific benefit distribution schemes were designed between different stakeholders under local government participation and coordination, rural tourism evolved into a benign development status. For Longji Terraces tourism, the core attractions are the terraced landscape and the minority culture. In order to maintain sustainable development of Longji Terraces, the two classes of resources must be well maintained. However, these resources are living and must be protected by local farmers through their persistence in agricultural production and continuous participation in social communication activities. Therefore, the benefits for farmers must be safeguarded in tourism development.
In Longji Terraces, farmers’ incomes were from three sources (Fig. 3). The first source was agricultural production. Farmers planted red rice, sweet potatoes, and peppers, or they bred chickens and ducks, or cultivated fishes in the rice terraces. They were able to sell these products at a high price due to production using traditional methods. The second one was operating non-farm industries such as hotels, restaurants, retail operations, or logistics. According to our surveys, there were 187 hotels/restaurants in Dazhai Village, an administrative village in Longji Terraces, where there were 275 households in 2019. On average, each hotel/restaurant earned 100000 yuan. The third source was the dividends and compensation from tourism companies. According to the agreements signed by villages and Longji Tourism Companies and Longji Cableway Company, the villages in Longji terraced scenic region must plant rice for properly maintaining the terraced landscapes and the two companies pay a ratio of tickets as a dividend and compensation for planting to the villages. Taking Dazhai as an example, it received 7204000 yuan from the two companies in 2019, so the average household obtained 26000 yuan of dividends and compensation. The high income from tickets motivated farmers to try their best to plant rice. In conclusion, the integration of agriculture and rural tourism drove local people to actively protect Longji Terraces from destruction.
Fig. 3 The mechanism of IID promoting IAHS conservation in Longji Terraces

3.2 Agriculture, product processing & e-commerce: The practice of HHRTS in Yunnan

3.2.1 Features of the Agricultural Heritage System

HHRTS is in Honghe Hani People Autonomous Prefecture of southwest China, which is located in the southern section of Ailao Mountain and distributed at an altitude of 1200-1900m, on the south bank of the upstream area of Red River. The rice terraces are distributed among four counties: Yuanyang County, Honghe County, Lvchun County, and Jinping County. HHRTS is a wonderful farming civilization mainly created by the Hani and Yi Nationalities in a special geographical environment. The traditional farming culture and minority culture are still well maintained in the Hani Terraces. With a long history of more than 1300 years, the terraces are still functioning today. Through long-term accumulation, Honghe Hani Terraces formed an agricultural culture that is characterized by planting red rice and Rice-Fish coculture. The landscape features are characterized by a whole ecosystem that consists of four elements of “forest-village-terraces-river systems”. Forests are situated on the top of mountains, which conserves water and provides water for villagers’ living and farmland irrigation. Villages are distributed in the terraces where farmers can easily access the fields. The rivers run from the mountains to the terraces. Honghe Hani Terraces are farmed by human power according to traditional farming methods. The red rice was designated as a National Product of Geographical Indication of China. The traditional coculture systems like Rice-Fish-Duck, Rice-Fish, and Rice-Loach, make full use of the light and heat resources. HHRTS are praised by anthropologists as a perfect example of the harmonious interaction between man and nature. In 2010, they were designated by FAO as GIAHS (FAO, 2021). In 2013, they were designated as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. However, Hani Terraces have been confronting the threat of population outmigration due to the low economic benefit of small-scale activities without a famous product brand. For dealing with that problem, IID that is centered around red rice in Hani Terraces has played an obvious role in improving local farmers’ income to promote terrace conservation.

3.2.2 Pathway IID promoting IAHS conservation

Like Longji Terraces, Hani Terraces also achieve the task of maintaining the terraced landscape through growing rice. Although they have landscape resources with a high value for tourism development, it is not feasible that developing the terraced tourism could motivate Hani farmers to persist in planting the Terraces. Due to the vast terraced area involving too many farmers and the differences of landscape quality among different villages, operating hotels and restaurants, as well as dividends and compensations from tourism companies, cannot benefit all the farmers in Hani Terraces. In addition, most peasant households had a low operation capacity and limited material and financial capital, which also hindered tourism development in Hani terraced region (Wang, 2020; Zhang et al., 2020). Therefore, the governments in Hani terraced areas had to lead the local farmers and enterprises in exploring a new effective pathway of IID to protect the terraces. For several years, they explored a new IID pathway suitable for Hani terrace conservation.
At first, the Hani people attempted to build an ecological agriculture brand depending on their clean farmland environment (Zhang et al.,2016), for example, developing specialized rice monoculture, a symbiotic system like Rice-Fish coculture, Rice-Fish-Duck coculture, rice-loach coculture, and traditional ecological animal husbandry and forestry (Fig. 4). In order to raise the additional value of agro-products, the governments encouraged enterprises and cooperatives to develop agro-product processing and manufacturing. Currently, the Hani terraced area produces a series of processed foods (red rice liquor, red rice noodles, red rice cookies, etc.) and daily-use chemical products (red rice shampoo, red rice shower foam, etc.). For obtaining more profits from the products, the governments also organized enterprises and farmers to build an integrated e-commerce system which includes building their own e-commerce platform, introducing agent shops, and using famous e-malls such as Tmall, Taobao, JD Mall and Alibaba. At the same time, they had also built an offline service network for farmers, cooperatives, and enterprises. Taking Yuanyang County as an example, there were 83 service points and 14 service stations to be built at the end of June 2018. The ecological agro-products and processed/made products could be sold through e-commerce. Red rice industries in Yuanyang County had created more than 200 million yuan of output value in 2017.(
Fig. 4 The mechanism of IID promoting IAHS conservation in Hani Terraces
As a result, the farmers in Hani Terraces obtained employment opportunities. Their incomes became diverse, for example, salary income from enterprises and non-farm income through operating e-shops or delivery industries other than agriculture. Farmers can generate more income through the operation of ecological agriculture in terraces and working non-farm jobs during a slack farming season in their own hometown. Therefore, the terraced landscape became an important resource and has been maintained well by the local farmers.

3.3 Agriculture, product processing and comprehensive marketing: The practice of ADFS in Inner Mongolia

3.3.1 Features of the Agricultural Heritage System

ADFS is in Aohan Banner of southeastern Chifeng City, Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, China, located in the transitional zone between China’s farming culture and grassland culture. The Agricultural Heritage System is characterized by dryland farming combined with forestry and husbandry, a long foxtail millet and broomcorn millet farming history of 7700-8000 years, diverse grain varieties, traditional agricultural skills, and experience in use as well as the traditional dryland farming culture. Foxtail millet and broomcorn millet are the most important crops in ADFS, which play a core role in the economic development of the system as a whole.
As an agricultural system adapting to the local climate environment, ADFS contributes to local food security and disaster relief, such as for droughts. The diverse dry crops in the system provide various nutrients for people, which help the local people maintain the nutrient balance in their bodies. With chronic diseases increasing, these millets have been of interest to more and more people. Besides, these diverse traditional crops are also the genetic resources for cultivating new crop varieties. In ADFS, there are abundant indigenous farming skills and experiences with water-saving irrigation, comprehensive recycling of crops, and ecological disease and pest control. These traditional knowledge resources have important reference values for the sustainable evolution of modern development.
However, due to the impacts of modern farming methods and models with high efficiency, rural social structures and farmers’ core values have changed. This traditional agricultural system is facing threats and challenges, so it is urgent to explore an effective pathway for IAHS conservation based on developing the rural economy to improve farmers’ income in the ADFS site.

3.3.2 Pathway IID for promoting IAHS conservation

In recent years, to motivate farmers to grow dry crops according to traditional methods, the Aohan government had explored an IID road based on their agricultural features. The IID road is comprised of ecological agriculture, agro-product processing, and comprehensive marketing (Fig. 5). For ADFS, dryland farming is the core element in need of protection. It is also a precious resource due to its specificity. Around the farming system, ecological traditional grain growing practices were developed, for example, planting millet, bean, sorghum, and buckwheat. The grain products were bought by processing enterprises or cooperatives which processed them into manufactured products, for example, five colors millet, postpartum, and stone rolled millet. The straws from the crops were used to breed donkeys. The donkeys were also purchased by enterprises or cooperatives to produce commercial meat and milk. These processed products were sold by the enterprises, cooperatives, and individual businesses through various marketing channels including both online and offline sales. The online sales mainly depended on e-commerce marketing platforms, like Tmall, Pinduoduo, and Alibaba. The offline sales included supermarket sales and direct supply to the cafeterias of companies or governments. For example, Aohan millet had gone into 11 supermarket enterprises in Beijing, such as Wu Mart. In 2019, the gross sale of Aohan agro-products was up to 156 million yuan. One hundred and twenty-eight poverty-stricken households escaped from poverty.
With the industrial chain extending, income channels of farmers in the ADFS site have become increasingly diverse. They earned agricultural operation income through farming crops, breeding donkeys, and selling agro-products; they gained salary income from the processing enterprises or cooperatives by working in these business entities; they obtained non-farm operation income through cooperating with e-commercial enterprises, cooperatives, or operating their own individual business. Besides, the products continued to increase in price, and the production scale also grew due to the ascending popularity of the IAHS brand in recent years. For example, in Aohan, the price of foxtail millet rose to 8-15 yuan in 2019 from 4 yuan before 2014. The planting area of the millets increased to 9.2×105 mu (about 61333.3 ha) in 2019 from 4×105 mu (about 26666.7 ha) in 2012. With the increasing planting area of millet in Aohan, the number of donkeys being bred was also rising rapidly. According to the statistical data, the number of donkeys on-hand increased to 3.13×105 in 2019 from 8.8×104 in 2015. The people’s income was thus enhanced by 860 yuan in 2019.
Fig. 5 The mechanism of IID promoting IAHS conservation in Aohan

3.4 Agriculture & experiential education: HMFS in Zhejiang

3.4.1 Features of the Agricultural Heritage System

Mulberry-dyke & Fish-pond System is a famous traditional circular agricultural system in southern China. The HMFS is seated in Zhejiang Province, and was created in the low-lying plain on the south of Taihu Lake. The agricultural system originated from the Spring and Autumn Periods (more than 2500 years ago). In the low plain, flood disasters frequently happen during the rainy season. In order to prevent flood disasters, the local people explored effective water conservancy works to store and drain excessive water through a network of “Zongpu” (narrow rivers in the north-south direction) and “Hengtang” (wide rivers in the east-west direction). They dug out low areas as fish ponds and piled the sludge around the ponds as dykes. The ponds are used to breed fishes. Mulberry trees are planted on the dykes. The mulberry leaves are harvested to feed silkworms; The silkworm excrement is used to feed fish; The fish excrement enriches the pond mud; The mud used as fertilizer is dug up for the mulberry trees. The landscape of HMFS consists of interconnected Mulberry-dykes and Fish-ponds, with the appearance of a chessboard. Based on the ancient ecological agricultural system, the IAHS site has formed a series of cultures, such as colorful traditional silk cultures and fish cultures, which are related to mulberry-planting, silkworm-rearing, and fish-raising.
In 2019, the system still had approximately 4000 ha of mulberry tree dykes and approximately 10000 ha of fish ponds. It was the largest, most concentrated, and well-conserved area of Mulberry-dyke & Fish-pond System in China. The circular system of agriculture takes full advantage of the water and soil resources based on the local natural environment, generating almost no pollution, promoting sustainable development of the local economy, and maintaining the livelihood of the local people. As an artificial wetland, the system enjoys rich biodiversity, including agricultural species like mulberry, silkworm, fish, and relevant biodiversity. It also has multiple ecosystem functions, such as water storage and flood regulation. The place which was not previously suitable for the survival of mankind was modified by the local people as a rich and world- renowned region. In 2018, it was designated by FAO as a GIAHS.
At present, the GIAHS conservation is confronted by many threats and challenges, for example, serious rural population aging, young labor outmigration due to outside work, and a lack of enthusiasm for aquaculture, as well as modern mechanized crafts replacing traditional handicrafts. This system needs an appropriate conservation pathway.

3.4.2 Pathway IID for promoting IAHS conservation

As a developed region in China, IAHS conservation in Huzhou Prefecture confronts many new problems in addition to some common problems. For example, planting mulberry trees for breeding silkworms has a high opportunity cost because they need lots of labor inputs due to the difficulty of industrialized and large-scale production. The lower benefit of planting mulberry for breeding silkworms relative to that of other models has become the main factor influencing the sustainability of HMFS (Liu et al., 2018b). Some Mulberry-dykes are broken due to lack of maintenance by the farmers. To address these problems, in recent years the local government, researchers, enterprises, and farmers commonly have explored an effective IID model to protect the GIAHS. At present, in Huzhou, an IID model of agriculture + tourism of studies and learning has been formed under the stakeholders’ participation (Fig. 6).
Fig. 6 The mechanism of IID for promoting IAHS conservation in Huzhou
For HMFS, the Mulberry-dyke & Fish-pond landscape and the knowledge and culture regarding the planting of mulberry and breeding of silkworms and fishes are key elements. They are also the core resources for achieving IID. For effectively conserving HMFS, the local government invested 2.2 million yuan to establish a state-owned enterprise to manage the core conservation of HMFS. At the same time, it developed popular scientific education to improve the public’s perception of HMFS ( It encouraged enterprises and farmers to operate the circular ecological agriculture according to the traditional methods through authorizing the use rights of GIAHS LOGO. For example, Mrs. Qian, a farmer in Digang Village, contracted 2000 mu (about 133.3 ha) of ponds to operate the ecological agriculture. She earned a handsome income by breeding fishes and silkworm seeds. The fishes she bred were sold in large cities such as Shanghai and Hangzhou due to the GIAHS brand and the clean water environment in the ponds. She earned 5 million yuan in 2018 according to our survey.
Depending on the HMFS landscapes and traditional mulberry knowledge and culture, some enterprises developed tourism items on studies and learning for the public, for example, a museum for historical cultural displays, entertainment for experiencing the fish culture, or creative agricultural items based on HMFS. These tourism items on studies and learning attracted lots of tourists. Some local farmers and enterprises invested in operating services for tourists, for instance, hotels, restaurants, retail, and logistics. Diverse industries provided a great many employment positions for local farmers. Local farmers obtained earnings from multiple approaches including agricultural income by doing agriculture; salary income by doing non-farm jobs in tourism companies, service companies or agricultural companies; or non-farm income by operating hotels, restaurants, retail, and logistics. Overall, HMFS has formed an industrial chain on the landscape and traditional knowledge and culture, which is typical of the IID model comprised of primary industry and tertiary industry. This model brings considerable benefits to the stakeholders, and it has encouraged them to protect HMFS.

4 Discussion

IAHS is a comprehensive system that usually covers a large area and refers to many different elements. Thus, IAHS conservation involves multiple stakeholders and needs their collective participation. That farmers obtain only a low income from traditional agriculture is usually the most important cause leading to the difficulty of IAHS conservation (Zhang et al., 2015). As the direct protector and the owner of the heritage, farmers must benefit from IAHS conservation and development (Min et al., 2016; Zhang and Shen, 2016). Many studies have demonstrated that IID based on the local resource advantages can promote IAHS conservation (Yang et al., 2019; Zhang et al., 2019; Fukamachi, 2020). IID and IAHS conservation present a close interactive relationship. If the relationship is dealt with properly, IAHS will be well protected.
IAHS conservation is the first important task for local government and the premise of IID. This study first analyzed the theoretical framework of IID according to the requirements of GIAHS conservation and research, including defining IID in IAHS sites and systemically analyzing the necessity of IID in IAHS sites, the resource bases of IID, and the feasible pathways. It then studied four cases which proved that promoting IID based on IAHS resources is an effective pathway for IAHS conservation. These cases showed that IID can raise the prices of agro-products in IAHS sites and increase employment opportunities for local farmers. The farmers are able to earn an equal or higher income through agriculture and part-time non-farm jobs in their hometown, rather than through going out of the area for non-farm jobs. Otherwise, the farmers would not be willing to participate in the IAHS conservation (He et al.,2020). Overall, IID is a feasible approach.
Ecological value and cultural value are their important advantages of resources in IAHS sites, which should be stressed in IID. As modern agriculture and modern culture are popularized throughout the world, traditional ecological agriculture and relevant culture have become rare resources. For IAHS sites, protecting these resources is the most crucial work (FAO, 2021). IID should be conducted on the condition that the heritage system is well protected. In this study, the high price and high popularity of products in IAHS sites indicate that the ecological resources and cultural resources are the most competitive resources for IAHS sites. With increasing living standards, consumers have more and more requirements for safe food and products with better cultural implications (Tong and Wang, 2010). Therefore, protecting the agricultural ecosystem and traditional cultures according to the requirement of IAHS conservation is the safeguard of IID sustainability.
IID should be based on local resource advantages. Firstly, IAHS conservation requires that IID cannot destroy the local traditional agricultural system (FAO, 2021). IID using local resources does not usually disturb or change the Agricultural Heritage System and its primitive environment. Secondly, IAHS is created based on a special natural environment. It has obvious regional features in the crops, biodiversity, adaptive technology, culture, and landscape. The four cases presented above showed that local resources have more competitive advantages in markets due to their uniqueness and high quality. Many other studies have also indicated that IID depending on local sources has more competitive advantages (Chen and Qiu,2013; Yiu, 2014; Zhang et al., 2017).
A combination of different policies and coordination between different stakeholders should be involved in IID. The four cases demonstrated that governments played a leading role in IID. They introduced diverse stimulating policies to encourage enterprises and farmers to develop different industries that rely on local resources. They also built regional public brands for local development through non-profit advertisements in multiple media. Using the public brands, enterprises, cooperatives, and farmers can easily develop different industries in a chain depending on IAHS resources. These stakeholders constitute an integral of mutual benefit in IID. In particular, IID gives farmers diverse approaches for improving their income in their hometown. Many IAHS studies also show that the conservation policies of governments and the coordination mechanism of multi-stakeholder cooperation play a crucial role in IID in IAHS sites (Yiu, 2014; Zhang et al., 2019; He et al., 2020).

5 Conclusions

Based on theoretical analyses of IAHS conservation requirements, relevant literature and case studies, this study concludes that IID is an effective approach for IAHS conservation. The IID in IAHS sites promotes IAHS conservation through improving farmers’ income, which allows them to work in their hometown. In IID, the price of agro-products in IAHS sites can be raised depending on the high quality of products and the IAHS brand value; and increasing employment opportunities are provided for local farmers. Farmers can earn an equal or higher income in their hometown. However, IAHS conservation must be taken as the premise in IID; the ecological value and cultural value of IAHS should be stressed; IID should be based on local resource advantages; and the role and benefit of indigenous farmers should be preserved. Finally, governments need to develop conservation policies to motivate stakeholders to take part in IID and build a scientific coordination mechanism to balance the benefits among different stakeholders.
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