Diaries from the field: Understanding the Nagacadan Rice Terraces

By JUDE BAGGO
www.nordis.net

Behind the picturesque landscape of the Nagacadan Rice Terraces (NRT) in Kiangan, Ifugao are the realities of the climate change and landscape on the ground. On a NRT postcard, no one would hear and see the challenges experienced by the local farmers.

From the infestation of the brown leaf hopper to the invasive kiwit, the NRT is struggling to survive. The task of conserving and restoring the NRT is enormous. But local farmers are resilient and in their small yet organized response to the challenges is a big hope in the continuing survival of the NRT.

The NRT is a UNESCO World Heritage and Globally Important Agricultural Heritage (GIAHS) Site and at the same time as host to the open air museum. As a World Heritage and GIAH Site, the NRT is a cultural and important agricultural landscape not only to the people of Kiangan but to the world.
But the landscape is changing on the ground. The approximately 20-hectare NRT have two faces. One for the incursion of the “high yielding rice variety” that comes with the use of synthetic fertilizers, pesticides and insecticides. The other face is the continuing production of heirloom rice but is not also spared from the use of fertilizers and insecticides. Attached to these two faces is the use of modern techniques and traditional practices. An illustration would be one farmer uses his traditional ways to clean his rice field and the other farmer uses a powerful herbicide to extinguish weeds.

Traditionally, the NRT follows an agricultural cycle which usually starts in December when the rice seed bed is prepared, followed by the planting season by January then harvest by June and July. After harvest, they clean the rice fields, check the rice paddy dikes and start making a pingkol (a mound of cut rice stalks for composting). Then the farmers plant vegetables. After some months, they spread the mound (pingkol) in the rice field. Weeds that are not composted are placed on the rice terrace walls to wilt and dry. Between harvest and before the land preparation, farmers can gather five kinds of shells (edible snails or escargot) in the rice terraces.

But with the introduction of “high yielding variety” rice through the municipal Department of Agriculture, the traditional rice production started to shift. Although, our guides during the Satoyama tour explained that the NRT is like 50-50 in terms of the presence of traditional and high yielding variety.

Jimmy Codamon, an indigenous knowledge holder and manager of the NRT Open Air Museum, explained that farmers are left without much option when they were offered to plant the rice introduced by the municipal agriculture office. According to him, in a cash crop driven economy versus subsistence farming, a farmer would choose a rice variety that can be planted twice in a year. For farmers, extra rice would mean added income which they can use to send their children to school and other expenses. Codamon, further stated that the “high yielding rice” came without the use of pesticides and fertilizers.

In another sharing with David Dulawan, an NRT resident who conducted a study on the presence of kiwit (Asian swamp eel) in the rice terraces which is causing damage. Due to the holes furrowed by the kiwit the water in the rice terraces gets drained. According to Dulawan, during lean season where “kiwit gatherers” use electricity to catch the eels, at least 20 heads can be gathered from one rice paddy. And if they return the next day to the same rice paddy, they can still collect at least 10-15 heads of eel.

Added to this kiwit problem is the infestation of the brown leaf hopper. As observed during the tour that the rice plants attacked by this pest do not fruit. Farmers need to plant the short-term rice to catch up with the other rice variety.

Today, there are initiatives by the different stakeholders to revive the heirloom production as an option in the conservation of the NRT. But this is not an easy task that farmers are willing to welcome in their open arms. Codamon, again highlighted the dilemma of farmers going back to the old form of farming since heirloom rice does not compensate for their expenses. Other problems he identified are the lack of consultation regarding projects and their sustainability in the community. He made an example of a million-worth irrigation project which is not functional because the farmers were not consulted. Aside from this, he lamented the weakening practice of traditional rice practices because of multiple reasons.

Lastly, Codamon reiterated that local farmers should have a voice in the planning and implementation of programs, projects and policies that directly affect them and the NRT in order to ensure the sustainability of the projects. # nordis.net

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