Monday, April 04, 2016

Aso's traditional grassland management — a linchpin of biodiversity and region-wide sustainable agriculture

The Aso valley. From the Aso GIAHS website's photo gallery.

My previous post highlighted the integrated cultivation of tea and feed grass in a traditional way that not only benefits both species but is also more sustainable than when the two are cultivated separately.

In this post I present another Japanese farming technique designated as a Globally Important Agricultural Heritage System (GIAHS) by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations: the traditional management of grasslands by the people of Aso, which is home to one of Mellow Monk's tea artisans, Koji Nagata.

The farming equivalent of the U.N.'s World Heritage Site system, the GIAHS program recognizes truly unique, traditional agricultural approaches that not only represent a means of sustainability worthy of preservation in their own environment but also a potential path to sustainability for others around the world.

Noyaki is a traditional technique of controlled burning that keeps grasslands from being overgrown with thicket species. From the blog "Tomo no Hitorigoto".

In the case of Aso grassland, the FAO recognizes that over the generations, traditional grassland management has preserved the biodiversity of rural landscapes and served as the cornerstone of region-wide sustainable agriculture for other crops, too. Says the GIAHS report: "The remarkable feature of [the] Aso region lies in this dynamic system of sustainable agriculture through cyclical grassland use and its management system."

This 2013 presentation (PDF) by Kumamoto Prefecture's vice-governor explains the philosophies and interdependencies involved wonderfully.

At the heart of this responsible grassland use is the same traditional philosophy that our tea artisans represent — that one does not own land so much as have temporary stewardship over it; that use of the land should ideally benefit others and preserve the land and its environment for future generations, as well.

—Mellow Monk


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