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Farmers keen on protecting heritage in E. China

By Ma Zhenhuan| chinadaily.com.cn| Updated: May 29, 2023 L M S


Farmers harvest fish in rice paddies in Fangshan township of Qingtian county in Lishui, Zhejiang province. [Photo provided to chinadaily.com.cn]

After more than three decades of doing business abroad, Lin Guoping decided to return to his hometown — Fangshan township in Qingtian county of Lishui, Zhejiang province, in 2019.

"I just missed the taste of the field fish," he said.

Lin was referring to the fish that are planted and grow up in rice paddies in the Qingtian rice-fish culture system, in which rice plants provide shade and food for fish and the fish nourish the rice by providing fertilizer, regulating micro-climatic conditions, softening the soil and dealing with weeds.

With a history spanning more than 1,300 years, this symbiotic rice-fish aquaculture system was designated by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations in 2005 as a globally important agricultural heritage system. It "demonstrates an ingenious approach to generating ecological, economic and social benefits through encouraging essential ecological functions," according to the website of the FAO.

More important, Lin explained, the reason for his return lay in the fact that fewer people seem to master the traditional techniques of raising fish in rice paddies, since they are usually passed down within the family and an increasing number of young people have gone to cities for jobs.

"The breeding techniques are age-old skills, which should be inherited from generation to generation," he said.

Once back at home, Lin not only studied meticulously from his mother every step of these techniques but he won the gold award in Qingtian's fish-rice growing competition in 2022. As a result, he was selected as a city-level inheritor of intangible cultural heritage.

In May 2022, Lin established his own cooperative focused on passing down and improving the fish-breeding techniques. More than 60 people from seven neighboring villages joined as members.

"The essence is to make good use of this system," Lin said. "What has changed is more advanced breeding technology, but the breeding environment and the whole ecology should be preserved."

In recent years, more has been done by the local authorities to preserve the Qingtian rice-fish culture system. A museum has been set up and the GIAHS Park has been put in place. Cultural festivals featuring the system have been held and tourist products providing tourists immersive experience in the fields have been offered.

In addition, some schools and education institutions have made Qingtian Rice-Fish Culture System part of their curriculum and study camps for students to go to the rice paddies in person are now quite common.

An early participant and supporter of the GIAHS initiative, China currently has 19 heritage systems on the FAO's list of globally important agricultural heritage systems, the most in the world.