The Ziquejie Terraces in Loudi, Hunan province. (ZENG WENGUI/FOR CHINA DAILY)
Experts have called for global endeavors to preserve, restore and further develop terraces, which they say are a vital cultural heritage of humanity.
The terraces nurture the soil, safeguard biodiversity, supply food, and carry human wisdom and memory, they said at the Global Farming Culture Exchange and Mutual Learning Conference, held from Tuesday to Thursday in Loudi, Hunan province.
It is important to conduct global surveys to identify and assess various aspects of terraces, such as their types, distribution, functions and values, and ultimately establish a comprehensive database, they said.
They called for collecting and sharing successful global cases of terrace preservation and development, and encouraged the government to adopt comprehensive and sustainable strategies and implement policies favorable to terrace preservation and development, including but not limited to policies regarding land use, agriculture and tourism.
Loudi is home to the Ziquejie Terraces, originating from the Qin (221-206 BC) and Han (206 BC-AD 220) dynasties.
The terraces have been recognized as a "Globally Important Agricultural Heritage" by the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization, and they appear on the World List of the International Commission on Irrigation and Drainage, as a unique type of agricultural irrigation.
Covering more than 5,000 hectares, the Ziquejie Terraces are built on hills with a height of 500 to 1,200 meters and a slope of 30 to 50 degrees.
Dong Le, program officer of the FAO China, said the ancient agricultural system is the foundation for modern and future agricultural innovation and technology, and the culture, ecosystem and diversity of the system is still maintained.
However, the system faces multiple threats, such as from climate change and increasing competition for natural resources. Human migration due to lack of economic activities can also lead to the abandonment of traditional agricultural methods, he said.
The FAO firmly believes in the promotion and strengthening of sustainable agricultural methods, which can facilitate environmental protection and biodiversity, he said.
Robert Walker, professor at the School of Sociology at Beijing Normal University, said the gravity irrigation system of the Ziquejie Terraces ensures the rice can always have a good harvest without water storage facilities, regardless of drought or rainstorm.
As growing rice requires the sharing of water and resources and twice the labor needed to grow wheat, collaboration in rice-growing areas has strengthened the emergence of collectivist values — a basic engagement necessary for survival, he said.
Worldwide, rice farming leads to more collectiveness, and to a closer attachment to social norms, which can lead to whole-process people's democracy and whole-process social responsibility, and ultimately contribute to achieving common prosperity, he added.
Hu Binbin, director of the Research Center for Chinese Village Culture at Central South University, said although there is no pool or dam at the Ziquejie Terraces, a natural water storage system has been created so that crops can be grown in all seasons.
"We can be amazed by the wisdom of our forefathers, and apart from appreciating the magnificence of the terraces we can also learn the philosophy of harmony between human beings and nature," he said.
Terraces were created to meet the people's needs for more food, and as time went by they became an important part of the cultural landscape, he said.
In a globalized and urbanized world, maintaining the uniqueness of different ethnic groups and maintaining the harmony between man and nature are particularly important, he added.