Irrigation project in Jiangsu gets world heritage designation

By Yin Xiaoyu, People’s Daily

The Xinghua Duotian Irrigation and Drainage System in Xinghua, Taizhou, east China’s Jiangsu province was recently recognized as a World Heritage Irrigation Structure (WHIS).

Granted by the International Commission on Irrigation and Drainage (ICID) on Oct. 6, the Xinghua Duotian Irrigation and Drainage System, together with three other newly-designated projects, have brought the total number of Chinese irrigation projects on the WHIS list to 30.

Back in 2014, the Xinghua Duotian Agrosystem has been designated by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN as a Globally Important Agricultural Heritage System (GIAHS).

The two heritage designations are now a “golden signboard” of local development.

Xinghua, a county-level city in Taizhou, sits between the Yangtze and Huaihe Rivers. The low-lying city is traversed by many lakes.

On higher marshes, ancestors of the city raised mud into small stacks and gradually developed a unique method of water-land utilization that dates back to over 1,000 years ago.

China’s agricultural development has a natural bond with irrigation engineering. “Duotian,” which means raised farmland in Chinese, is core to both the Xinghua Duotian Irrigation and Drainage System and the Xinghua Duotian Agrosystem. The two systems both include irrigation and drainage systems, remains of ancient irrigation and drainage facilities, ancient water systems, architectural remains, as well as relevant documents and tales about water conservation.

Being similar to each other, the two systems still have differences, which indicates the necessity of applying for two separate heritages.

The two heritages designations, focusing on irrigation structure and agricultural system, respectively, discover and demonstrate the connotation of Xinghua Duotian in terms of history, technology and culture in different ways.

As an agricultural heritage, Duotian is a “living fossil” of ancient land utilization and a precious sample facilitating the study of the evolution of local ecology and methods of land utilization.

As an irrigation heritage, it is the world’s only irrigation and drainage system located on raised and dry farmland. It plays an important role in supporting agricultural development and the utilization of water resources.

The successful application of the WHIS and the GIAHS not only motivated Xinghua to protect and preserve its raised farmland, but also stimulated the productivity of social development.

When spring arrives, the blossoming rape flowers on the raised fields and the boats floating on nearby waterways would form a picturesque view. In autumn, high-quality Longxiang taro, a local featured gourmet, is harvested.

Duotian is not only a rich source of agricultural products, but also a tourist attraction. As early as April 2009, it held a rape flower festival.

The WHIS and GIAHS recognitions have given a huge boost to the local economy, especially the tourism sector. Xinghua has fully leveraged such brand advantage to improve its influence.

In 2016, it signed a memorandum to enhance cooperation and exchanges on agricultural heritage with Mexico City. Between 2015 and 2017, it held three sessions of high-level training courses on GIAHS under the framework of the South-South Cooperation program and a seminar on the management and protection of agricultural cultural heritage for Belt and Road countries.

Besides, Xinghua has vigorously promoted integrated development of the primary, secondary and tertiary industries. It cultivates various types of ornamental plants to sustain its beautiful landscape all year round.

By fostering the dehydrated vegetable business, it has established a national-level demonstration zone for food safety and quality that covers over 10,000 mu, or 667 hectares, becoming the top county in China in terms of the processing of dehydrated vegetables and fruits.

Duotian is driving the economic growth of Xinghua, and the local government is in turn enhancing its efforts to further protect the heritage.

Since March last year, a regulation on the protection of Duotian has been put into force in Taizhou. Xinghua has set up a research center for Duotian protection and development, and is carrying out regular patrols for monitoring and reconditioning of the raised farmland.

In the recent two years, the Qianduo scenic area in Xinghua has completed the comprehensive management of 500 mu of Duotian, and plans to advance with a progress of 200 mu per year.