Three sites in China - a nomadic livestock-rearing region in Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, an ancient Anxi Tieguanyin tea producing area in Fujian Province and a rain-fed terrace farming system in Shexian, Hebei Province - were formally recognized as Globally Important Agricultural Heritage System (GIAHS) by the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (FAO) recently. As of date, a total of 18 sites in China have made the list, ranking first in the world.
"These 18 sites are emblematic of China's long-lasting and outstanding agricultural heritages. Exploring such heritages and making good use of them can place the industrial development and local employment on a more incentive footing. IP system, as a sound development pattern, is able to throw light on the robustness of the heritages," says Min Qingwen, Director General of Expert Committee on Global Important Agricultural Heritage of the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs of China.
Explore ways to protect heritages
FAO celebrates 20 years of the GIAHS initiative this year, and China is one of the earliest sponsoring and participating countries. "During the past 20 years, China has spared no efforts in executing GIAHS projects, promoting institutionalization of GIAHS, scientific research and public education. Deeply involved in this sector for quite an extended period of time, China boasts numerous and diverse projects which vary in development stages and ethnic regions. So we need to make full use of advantages to keep searching new ways of how to protect GIAHS and introduce Chinese experiences to the international community," Min adds.
In Min's eyes, China needs to certify GIAHS products in line with the established ecological and geographical indications (GI) certification system and incorporates natural and cultural protection and special agricultural product development. "We ought to bring IPR into full play as a vital way to foster GIAHS brands."
Finetune system to boost development
"Traditional knowledge is home to modern scientific innovation, while the existing IP system is the one that worries less about upstream property allocation and benefits distribution," says Song Min, Director General of Agricultural IP Research Center of the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences.
Song believes China needs to further improve IP system and exert full role of itself in protecting important agricultural heritages. First, China should develop a genetic resources and traditional knowledge benefit-sharing system within the protection apparatus of patent and new varieties of plants. Second, bolster GI protection system and build regional public brand to achieve market value. Third, try to set up an exclusive right for special cultural heritages to prevent vulgarization of imitation from happening.
Min views agricultural heritage as a mixture that absorbs biodiversity, traditional knowledge and technology, national cultural and rural landscape. The GIAHS has also expressed its original intentions to prevent human cultural heritages from disappearing. "It doesn't mean that modern science and industrial development have nothing to do with the heritage, and agricultural heritage, on the contrary, will lose momentum if it lacks of function in 'production'. We are able to use the IP system to facilitate industrial development and ramp up income of local residents and inspire them to protect heritages, so that they can pass on these heritages for years to come."