Here is a presentation given at the ICNT 2017 in Bali by Anika Molesworth:
Just beyond my family’s farm, they say you can see the curvature of the Earth. The red plains seem to stretch out forever. On hot summer days, dust devils, dance across the horizon.
When the rain does eventually come, brilliant electrical storms light up the night sky and flash floods immerse thousands of desert acres.
To the untrained eye the expansive interior of Australia looks deserted and lifeless.
But this is where farmers like my family raise livestock, grown from the land and in turn nourishing our communities.
And for those who have witnessed the migration of a thousand emerald budgerigars, or heard the groan of a Eucalypt trees when the ephemeral creeks start to flow, it is undeniable that this land breathes and evolves as the seasons change.
And this is why this part of Australia has such an appeal to artists all over the country, who come to paint, sculpt and create film. Inspired by the colours and the lonely horizons.
But this ecosystem is fragile.
And the combined challenges of feeding a growing number of people on the planet, ecosystem degradation and climate change ask more of farmers than ever before, so the protection of these delicate environments, rural communities, and food production systems is paramount.
And I believe sustainable farming is key in ensuring a vibrant and resilient future for all of us.
And that means rural environments that promote intangible heritage alongside modern solutions.
When I’m not in a dusty sheep yard at home, I’m often found in the lush rice paddies of Southeast Asia – as well as being a farmer, I am also an agricultural researcher. Because as land managers, we need to continually seek new information, a better understanding of how our world works, and human interaction with it.
And I often get asked – why have I chosen farming?
There are countless ways to fill ones’ wallet quicker and easier than toiling soil. So why do farmers do what they do?
In most cases, for farmers it is the value of an intangible that cannot be pointed to, packaged or bought. Instead, it is the passion, the vision and the legacy for this invisible aspect that keeps those boots dirty and that hat pulled low.
The intangible is hard to express and difficult sometimes for others to comprehend. Often left to philosophical debate held late at night with a wine in hand.
So, I will try to illuminate that intimate connection between the farmer’s self, their environment, their culture and the future.
It is sometimes easier to overlook the complexity and intricacy that makes up the intangible, than articulate what cannot be grasped and only felt. But we do that at our peril.
The intangible is that sense of place – not just trees and grass – but the sphere of the world in which we stand, and know its importance.
It is the untouchable elements of sphere, that exist in the realm of the sensory, are unique to location and deeply personal.
It is the auditory landscapes like a rooster crowing at dawn, or the golden sun glistening on the rice paddies in the late afternoon.
And the people that exist in these special places. Their art, music, history and beliefs.
The culture of agrarian communities includes traditions and living expressions inherited from their ancestors and adapted and molded by each following generation.
It is the song and dance, the stories and rituals, and the knowledge of traditional crafts that make up intangible cultural heritage.
And is in essence, the fabric that binds many traditional farming communities.
When we bring life to the intangible, we speak of what empowers farmers from one day to the next. The feelings, emotions and experiences that drives them to continually seek improvement in their farming systems and to protect these delicate worlds.
And with this we must realise two things;
Firstly, that intangible assets bring tangible benefits. When we have vibrant rural communities, the local schools remain open. Businesses flourish.
When we respect cultures, both living cultures and those passed down in stories, our society prospers.
When the intrinsic value of an ecosystem and all its individual components – the trees, wildlife, and water sources – are cherished, then the proper functioning of the building blocks of life permit other life to build upon itself.
Secondly, we must understand the vulnerability of our intangible assets, and to be conscious of their irreplaceability. One of the most serious, but often unrecognized threats, is that of disengagement.
Facilitating and encouraging respect for intrinsic value is essential. There must be determined effort not to lose the intangible, and this can be achieved by engendering pride of place, encouraging inquisitiveness of cultural heritage, and a harmonious relationship with the natural world.
However, the number one challenge faced by farmers is climate change. Farmers live and work closest to the land, they are on the frontline of climate change. It is not an issue of the future. It is driving young people to cities, and breaking up communities, and fracturing intangible heritage in farming landscapes, today.
So, ensuring farmers have the knowledge, skills and support structures in place to face the challenges brought about by climate change is essential.
Although my family have a farm in Australia, and much of my farming research is conducted there, I am lucky to also spend time in Southeast Asia, mainly Laos and Cambodia.
What really strikes me in this part of the world, is the great value placed on the intrinsic.
For example, the verdant green rice paddies of Laos are a patchwork of shallow ponds, scattered with ancient forest, and decorated by brightly clad women.
Fish and ducks swim amongst the rice, fertilising the plants, and removing weeds and insects the natural way.
Buffalo that toiled the soil are tethered on the banks lazily eating the stubble from last season’s harvest. And the first question you will always be asked on arriving at a rice paddy – “Isn’t it beautiful?”
It is not the yield or the profit that is of most importance- it is the beauty of a balanced ecosystem sustaining both human and non-human life.
It is the modest agricultural program of traditional Southeast Asian farmers enables time to be spent with family and friends exchanging stories and celebrating local customs – a vital way of passing on cultural information to the youth from an older generation.
In my spare time, I manage the INTO Farms program.
INTO Farms disseminates information on issues faced by land managers, their solutions, and management strategies being undertaken at National Trust farming properties around the world.
INTO Farms encourages and supports the conservation and preservation of natural resources, heritage livestock breeds and heirloom crop species, heritage farming structures, traditional rural landscapes, and the use of traditional farming and cultural practices.
Lessons from member organisations
There are countless examples across the world where communities have come together to promote sustainable farming practices in conjunction with heritage conservation.
And I just want to highlight a few properties owned or managed by heritage organisations, and how intangible heritage is being protected.
Arcadia Farm in America, is a community run garden that producers fresh fruit and vegetables for underprivileged neighbourhoods and provides farm and nutrition education.
Can you imagine the delight of these children who get to dig in the dirt, that excitement of planting veggies and eating them weeks later? Instilling in these kids the value of food, looking after the soil, and not wasting food, is so important.
And unfortunately, it is a real thing in many of our societies, people have become so detached from food production, that we really do need to show them the joy of growing food.
Hafod y Llan in Wales, has tapped into the natural power of water, and generates all its energy from hydropower. Renewable energy plays a vital role in future rural communities, and this farming property demonstrates that it is possible to conserve the natural environment whilst adopting technology at the same time.
The Farm of Learning in Taiwan, is centred around environmental management, community engagement and eco-tourism. The local indigenous tribe have thousands of years’ worth of knowledge to impart – and the farm uses their tradition knowledge to make informed and time-tested agroecological decisions.
Land managers at Wimpole Estate in England, help to preserve livestock genetic diversity in heritage breeds, and educates visitors why it is important to save such characteristics.
Nabogiono Farm in Fiji, grows traditional medicinal plants. Here they are preserving traditional knowledge in a natural setting, that is good for the wildlife as well as the people.
In conclusion, by intertwining tradition with technology, and valuing intangible heritage, National Trusts and farmers alike, can build resilience into rural landscapes, and face change in a confident manner.