The UN Food and Agriculture Organization approved the addition of south China's rice terraces to the list of Globally Important Agricultural Heritage Systems (GIAHS) on November 24.
The GIAHS concept is comparable to UNESCO's well-known World Heritage program. As well as seeking to preserve, maintain and protect important cultural sites, GIAHS aims to establish sustainable methods of preservation, and to boost the prospects of the human actors who play a critical role in the future of this agricultural heritage.
The Longji Rice Terraces in south China's Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region are a typical example. This traditional agricultural method represents an ancient, natural mode of farming, untainted by the polluting practices inherent in most modern techniques.
The rice terraces' scenic landscape have attracted both domestic and overseas visitors in huge numbers in recent years. In 2015, local tourism revenues hit 4.62 billion yuan, as 5.53 million visitors descended on the terraces. Yet this boom poses a threat to the future of the landscape. The tourism industry consumes vast amounts of water, mostly diverted from the farming processes necessary to maintain the rice terraces. Moreover, as the income available from tourism greatly exceeds agricultural revenues, more and more villagers are abandoning the arduous work on the terraces and are instead opening hotels and restaurants. If the current trend continues, then neither the local tourism boom nor the agricultural heritage can survive. Local people need to find a sustainable solution to preserve their idyllic landscape and improve their livelihood.