The Globally Important Agricultural Heritage System (GIAHS) has been established by FAO to protect valuable agricultural systems that are rich in biodiversity and home to indigenous knowledge, technology and cultural values. GIAHS has been accepted by many countries as a tool to maintain traditional agrosystems as “living heritage”. This paper examined the Xinghua Duotian agrosystem in eastern China to explore whether the GIAHS programme is an effective instrument for top-down implementation of conservation policies initiated by the government. An intensive social survey using a questionnaire was conducted in the core conservation area to examine farmers' understanding of the agrosystem and their willingness to conserve it. Statistical analyses including factor analysis, a linear model, a logit model and an optimal scale model were used to reveal farmers' perception of GIAHS and the factors that impact their willingness to conserve. Results show that the agrosystem faces challenges of aging and population loss. Farmers were not very familiar with GIAHS. They did not link GIAHS to the agrosystem because they generally understood GIAHS as a title meant to bring economic benefits, although they also thought the agrosystem had non-economic values worth conserving. Because farmers were not sure about the economic outcomes of the GIAHS programme, they thought the government, not them, should take the main role in conservation. Therefore, GIAHS as a tool to encourage farmers to become active in conservation does not seem very effective. It will not become so until it truly facilitates the transformation of non-economic values to economic values in the agrosystem. We suggested that the concepts of GIAHS should be matched to farmers' perceptions to provide farmers with conservation incentives.
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