Traditional farming systems in Iran, Morocco and Spain have won recognition from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation as Globally Important Agricultural Heritage Systems (GIAHS), FAO said on Friday.
A centuries-old saffron cultivation system in Iran, an argan-based agro-pastoral system in Morocco, and an ancient olive trees system in Spain all feature unique ways to produce nutritious foods and/or spices using traditional knowledge and skills while improving local people's livelihoods and conserving biodiversity, FAO stated.
The sites were designated by the GIAHS Scientific Advisory Group based on selection criteria that included global importance, their value as a public good in terms of supporting food and livelihood security, agro-biodiversity, knowledge systems, adapted technologies, cultures, and outstanding landscapes, said FAO.
The Saffron Farming System is located in Iran's central plateau, which has an arid and semi-arid climate. Severe water shortages in the area pose major threats to food security and livelihoods of local communities.
Proper use of water resources supplied by the Qanat (or aquaduct) irrigation system and production of high value added products, especially saffron, have however created a unique opportunity for farmers and residents of the region to improve their livelihoods, FAO said.
Saffron does not require large quantities of water compared to cereals, which has resulted in the allocation of more areas for the cultivation of this invaluable crop making it a major source of income for many farmer households, FAO noted.
"Today it plays a key role in creating job opportunities, reducing migration, providing sustainable livelihoods, improving efficiency in water use and productivity as well as developing eco-tourism in the area," FAO stated.
The 5,000 ancient olive trees in the "Territorio Séniaan area between Valencia, Catalonia and Aragon makes this territory a unique place offering local communities numerous opportunities for rural development, including the recovery of abandoned ancient olive trees and utilising these for production, and boosts cooperation between the olive oil, oleotourism and many other economic sectors, FAO underlined.
Average annual output of olive oil in the area is estimated at more than 12,000 tonnes. These income-generating activities have significantly helped to improve the living conditions of local people. In addition, there are different varieties of olives on each farm, to improve the pollination of flowers and future varieties of olives, contributing to biodiversity.
The agro-forestry-pastoral system in Ait Souab-Ait Mansour central Morocco is a unique region where argan trees have been cultivated for centuries. This system is based on agroforestry practices in dry stone terraces that are highly resilient to arid environment, water scarcity and poor soils. It uses only locally adapted species and pastoralism activities and relies on a traditional water management provided by the Matifiya - a rain water reservoir carved into rock.
The Amazigh indigenous communities in Ait Souab-Ait Mansour as well as communities of Arab origin have developed a specific culture and identity sharing their traditional knowledge and skills. Although farmers earn the majority of their income from the cultivation of argan trees, the integrated system also provides them with other food and material such as staple crops, cereals, fire wood, meat and wool, according to FAO.
It is the third time that sites in Iran and Spain have been added to the global agricultural heritage systems list and the second time for Morocco. FAO's global agricultural heritage network now consists of 57 remarkable landscapes in 21 countries around the globe.