Biodiversity and conservation

U.N. recognizes agricultural heritage of Chilean archipelago

Unique agricultural produce, endemic species and rich cultural heritage leads United Nations to declare Chiloé a ‘Globally Important Agricultural Heritage System.’ 

Wednesday, October 24, 2012  
Photo: Juan Ernesto Jaeger Photo: Juan Ernesto Jaeger

Endemic species, indigenous knowledge, agricultural biodiversity, and traditional technologies have led the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) to officially declare the archipelago of Chiloé as a “Globally Important Agricultural Heritage System” (GIAHS).


The recognition places the area, located on the northern frontier of Chilean Patagonia, within a network of 14 GIAHS sites around the world. Other sites include saffron cultivation in Kashmir, India, the Hani Rice Terraces of China, and the soil management practices of the indigenous people in Brazil’s Amazon.


The UN organization defines GIAHS areas as: “remarkable land use systems and landscapes which are rich in globally significant biological diversity evolving from the co-adaptation of a community with its environment and its needs and aspirations for sustainable development.”


Agricultural biodiversity


Not only famed for their rich folkloric traditions and UNESCO World Heritage churches, the people of Chiloé have also cultivated a range of unique agricultural produce.


Of those, the potato is the perhaps the most notable. An FAO report stated that 2,500 varieties had been developed on the archipelago, of which 500 are still grown by local farmers. Chiloé potatoes come in all shapes, sizes and colors - from deep purple and blood red, to varying shades of yellow, orange and blue.


Native strawberries are another standout produce from the archipelago, as is ajo chilote, sometimes called elephant garlic, which is distinguished by its size and mild flavor, making it ideal for use in garlic pastes and creams.


And it’s not just produce that has been adapted to the archipelago’s fertile soils, rolling hills and rain forests. The Chiloé horse has been recently recognized as a distinct breed from the Chilean horse.


Local customs


The rich cultural heritage of Chiloé and its deep connection with the natural environment was also taken into account by the FAO. From vines used by islanders to create baskets, to herbs cultivated for medicinal purposes and plants used to dye wool, Chilote farmers have a longstanding history of cultivating native plants for a wide range of daily practices.


For more information, see this FAO report on Chiloé