This is a completely off-topic post, but I thought it covers an interesting topic in one of those areas that it benefits everyone to know something about. Last night I found myself accidentally at diner with the director of the Land and Water Division of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).  His particular interest at the moment is Globally Important Agricultural Heritage Systems, that is systems of farming developed in a particular location over a long period of time that have adapted uniquely to their environment, and represent a long investment of local knowledge and experience in the local farming system. Japan has its own unique agricultural heritage, the Satoyama, which is why he is here (I think). There’s even a David Attenborough-narrated documentary about them (so they must be important!) I’ve previously written in another location about the challenge that Japan faces in the modern era of protecting food security and simultaneously preserving their agricultural landscape, as well as the generational conflict that the burden of preserving Satoyama is sure to create, and it’s interesting to see the UN taking an interest in it as well. Anyone who has visited rural Japan (and I have to recommend rural Japan for anyone who wants to come here – it’s truly a beautiful and calming part of the world) will know that Satoyama are an essential part of the landscape here, and a Japan without them would be a strange sight indeed… but times and places change, and if Japan is to increase its food supply from its current woeful state then maybe the Japanese will have to start thinking about a move to industrialized rice farming. Which, the Australians can assure you, is an environmental disaster.

Returning to the topic of Globally Important Agricultural Heritage Systems, however, the list in the FAO website provides some stunning and fascinating environments which surely make an interesting setting for any role-playing campaign. There are the high-altitude Andean terraced farms, the Chinese rice-paddies swarming with fish that play the role of both fertilizers and food, and the lemon gardens of Amalfi that have been such an inspiration to both Porco Rosso and the eastern suburbs of the town where I did my undergraduate degree… these places are all excellent locations for an adventure, and the unique nature of their environment and their farming heritage makes for a unique culture and built environment that you can transfer, wholesale, into your campaign, with perhaps a bit of fantastic flavour, to make a genuinely different setting. Maybe those lemon farms could be transferred to mushroom plots on steep cliff-faces staring into the outer darkness of a Dwarven settlement; maybe your PCs will stumble on a high and mountainous kingdom, where slaves toil on multiply-terraced mountainsides to provide a powerful narcotic to their elven masters; or maybe the fish that grow in those paddocks have some healing property that keeps the rice-farmers eternally young despite their back-breaking labour… there’s much to be drawn from unique cultures in the real world, and the FAO conveniently provides us with a list…

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