Save the Ifugao rice terraces? Scholarships are key

Karlston S. Lapniten
Save the Ifugao rice terraces? Scholarships are key
To entice the younger generation, the provincial government offers scholarships in agro-fishery, forestry, and agriculture-related courses

BAGUIO CITY, Philippines – Efforts to help save the world-renowned Ifugao Rice Terraces from further degradation has shifted from subsidizing the repair of ripraps and irrigation to offering free education to those who can help preserve it.

In recent years, natural and man-made disasters and out-migration of natives have led to the decimation of the landscape that has brought Ifugao fame and fortune. To restore the rice terraces, the Department of Agriculture and the provincial government have funneled over P30 million in projects to rehabilitate it.

However, the repairs are seemingly not enough to preserve the integrity of the landscape that has been declared the “Eighth Wonder of the World,” lamented Governor Denis Habawel moments after his State of the Provincial Address last August 5 in the Lagawe, the capital town.

To fill the gap, he said, young people should be given the opportunity to help in reviving and maintaining the Ifugao Rice Terraces by offering them free education. Most of them are busy pursuing careers and job opportunities not inclined to help save their ancestral heritage, he said.

To entice the younger generation, the provincial government crafted scholarships in agro-fishery, forestry and agriculture-related courses. This does not only give opportunities for the less fortunate to earn higher education but also helps increase the competencies of their own people, said Habawel.

In July, Ifugao entered into a memorandum of agreement with the Open University of the University of the Philippines and the Sakuyama Maestre Program of Kanazawa University of Japan to offer scholarships in a masters program in terraces conservation.

With all school expenses paid for by the government, the Ifugao governor has only one request to the beneficiaries: return home and apply the knowledge.

By empowering the people through education, Habawel hopes the centuries-old rice terraces, which their ancestors left as legacy, could continue for many more centuries to come.  

“We are currently pursuing that (scholarships) and hopefully people will take the opportunity and help Ifugao, their home,” Habawel said.

Cultivating abandoned farms

Aside from providing education, the local government has also started incorporating traditional practices in handling abandoned farms.

In the town of Banaue, the municipal government has institutionalized the practice of chawa, which offers the field to any third party interested should the owner have no intention of cultivating the fields anymore.

If the municipal agriculturist’s office is deemed abandoned, the LGU will take charge of managing and using the fields at an indigenous way of sharing between the owner.

“We are trying to use indigenous practices to save our rice terraces because they are vital to our economy and identity,” Habawel said. Additionally, he bared the provincial government has tied up with export firms to look for foreign market of the tinawon heirloom rice.

The heirloom rice, indigenous to Ifugao, is the only variety grown by the local farmers and is sown only once in a year. It is the main agricultural produce of the province and is a major component of its tourism industry which sustains a big fraction of its economy.

The tinawon rice, literally meaning annually, is currently marketed as souvenir, sold at the different tourism destinations in different packed quantities by various private entrepreneurs throughout Ifugao.

Making the heirloom rice highly valuable and finding a stable and sustainable market may finally convince younger generations to return to the abandoned farms and resume the seasonal planting, he stated. – 

Photo from the Save the Ifugao Rice Terraces Facebook page

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