by the GFAR Secretariat
Agri-food heritage systems have been recognized for their potential to help address food security and to promote sustainable development worldwide. But significant progress in promoting and developing these systems remains to be made. Can the creation of a new digital knowledge environment help change this?
The World Agricultural Heritage Forum thinks so.
Its “Digital Centre for Excellence for Agri-Food Heritages” (Digital COE) seeks to create an environment in which thought leaders and practitioners can convene and exchange knowledge. By doing this, it hopes to advance research and advocacy that can help to protect and develop agri-food heritage systems at the global, regional, national and sub-national levels.
Why are agri-food heritage systems so important?
Contemporary agriculture is often criticized for generating unsustainable systems that require huge amounts of energy, are acutely vulnerable to climate change and political disruption, have adverse effects on nutrition and are disconnected from local culture.
However, around the world there are endless examples of smaller, traditional agri-food systems that are intricately related to local territory and culture, and which have developed into resilient systems that can cope with external shocks while still providing a key source of nutrition. Protecting, revitalizing and promoting these food heritage systems is therefore of huge importance if we want to contribute to food security, healthy diets and sustainable development.
A fragmented learning landscape
The importance of agri-food heritage systems has been increasingly acknowledged at the international level, as demonstrated by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization’s (FAO) recognition of “Globally and Nationally Important Agricultural Heritage Systems” (GIAHS and NIAHS). However, significant progress in promoting and developing these systems remains to be made, and development challenges keep on growing.
A key reason for this lack of progress is the fact that the learning landscape surrounding agri-food heritage systems is fragmented. Surprisingly, to-date there is no single, digital, cost-effective and inclusive global platform bringing practitioners together to collaborate. On top of this, although there is a significant pool of accumulated knowledge and tools pertaining to the development of agri-food heritage systems, it remains disconnected from the learning landscape.
The “Digital Centre of Excellence for Agri-Food Heritages” (Digital COE)
The World Agricultural Heritage Forum (WAHF) seeks to change this fragmented, disconnected learning landscape. Its new initiative, the “Digital Centre of Excellence for Agri-Food Heritages,” (Digital COE) is due to launch in July and will convene diverse thought leaders and practitioners to advance research and advocacy, as well as to strengthen capacity, to protect and develop agri-food heritages at the global, regional, national and sub-national levels. Included within its focus will be the role of policy, society, finance, science and technology in the protection and development of agri-food heritage sites and systems.
Amongst its goals, the Digital COE seeks to provide an environment that can initiate and facilitate inter-disciplinary research related to the conservation and management of agri-food heritage systems; identify ways to mitigate risks such as biodiversity decline and loss of traditional knowledge; develop concise, coherent, practical and action-based policy guidance; promote the dissemination of knowledge that can strengthen conservation and enhance sustainable agriculture and rural development; and increase the benefits that local people derive from conservation and sustainable use of resources.
Through this, WAHF hopes to boost the practical application of good practices in the protection and development of agri-food heritage sites and systems, help achieve the GIAHS/NIAHS Action Plans, and establish a process for effective knowledge exchange. WAHF hopes that through collaboration and exchange, we can nurture agri-food heritage systems as enablers of sustainable development.