▲ The April designation should lead to focused conservation efforts for the stone walls. Photo courtesy Jeju Special Self-Governing Province
In April, the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) recognized Jeju stone agricultural walls, “batdam,” as a Globally Important Agricultural Heritage system. (GIAHS). Wando’s field irrigation system, “gudeuljangnon,” in South Jeolla Province was added to the list on the same day and along with Jeju’s agricultural stone walls they become Korea’s maiden GIAHS sites
The Jeju application was made by Jeju Special Self-Governing Province and was supported by the Ministry of Agriculture, Food & Rural Affairs, the Federation of Jeju Farmers Organization and Jeju Development Institute.
Jeju’s stone walls are thought to be a thousand years old and wend 22,000 kilometers across the island, which is half the circumference of the Earth. While agricultural stone walls also exist in Europe, notably in the UK and Ireland, Jeju’s walls are built with stone alone and are only for dry-field farming.
Batdam are made with the volcanic rocks which litter Jeju fields and they function as wind breaks to prevent soil erosion and maintain soil richness and moisture. They also demarcate field boundaries and ensure cattle and horses don’t damage crops. Despite surviving so long, many modern-day challenges include urbanization and rearrangement of traditional field boundaries.
Both Jeju and Wando systems were first designated as nationally important agricultural heritage in January 2013 and officials have worked since then to ensure the five main GIAHS criteria were met. These criteria relate to:
1. Food and livelihood security;
2. Biodiversity and ecosystem function;
3. Knowledge systems and adapted technologies;
4. Cultures, value systems and social organizations (Agri-Culture);
5. Remarkable landscapes, land and water resources management features.
There must in addition be “Other social and cultural characteristics pertinent to the management of the agricultural system” and historic and contemporary relevance.
The GIAHS initiative began in 2002 to safeguard and support the world’s agricultural heritage systems through promoting public understanding and awareness of such systems. As of late 2013, a total of 265 agricultural assets from 11 countries were on the GIAHS list including the Aohan Dryland Farming System in China, the Saffron Heritage of Kashmir, India, and Traditional Reindeer Herding in Siberian Russia.
It is hoped that the designation will bolster preservation efforts and funds for further research and education measures, in addition to a comprehensive conservation management plan to ensure Jeju’s stone walls are utilized as a valuable cultural asset.
ⓒ Jeju Weekly 2009 (http://www.jejuweekly.com)
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