Ifugao rice terraces to rise anew, and sustain exports of upland rice


By Adora Rodriguez

The Philippine government is taking decisive steps to restore one of the most majestic creations man has made, the Ifugao Rice Terraces. The initiative is being pursued not only to attract more tourists, but also to sustain and increase the production of upland rice for exports.

Created over 2,000 years ago, the stair-like rice paddies in the sky were gradually brought to ruins by man’s carelessness and greed, and the adverse weather conditions.

Last year, typhoons ‘Quiel’ and ‘Pedring’ crumbled the stone walls of the picturesque Ifugao rice terraces in Barangay Batad, in Banaue, collapsing close to 40 rice paddies, and damaging irrigation canals and footpaths.

When Agriculture Chief Proceso J. Alcala visited the province in November last year, he immediately committed to restore the grandeur of the Batad rice terraces.

He instructed the initial release of P1 million to kick off the restoration of 8,700 cubic meters of stone walls, 2.5 kilometers of irrigation canals, 25 hectares of watershed, and five kilometers of farm-to-market roads, among other civil works and related agricultural livelihood projects.

The amount is part of the total P20M committed by the DA as its counterpart. Another P10M is being pitched in by Senator Francis Pangilinan. The Ifugao provincial government and other stakeholders are also sharing to fill up the total restoration cost, initially pegged at P36.25 million.

Aside from the rice terraces in Batad, other similar stair-like rice paddies are found in: Barangay Bangaan, also in Banaue; Barangay Nagacadan, in Kiangan; Mayoyao; and in Hungduan.

Together, they are known as the Ifugao rice terraces that were painstakingly built and contoured by their ancestors, fashioning them into verdant ricefields, along the endless sloping mountainsides. The terraces simply mirror the Ifugao’s diligence, creativity and determination.

Among them is lady rice farmer Dolores Melong of Hungduan, who learned from her parents how to plant and nurture Mina-Angan, a traditional upland rice variety that produces 18 to 20 stalks per plant.

“Our parents taught us when we were young, and now we teach our children to do the same to keep our ancestor’s legacy alive,” Aling Dolores narrates.

Melong is one of the 48 farmer-members of the Hungduan Farmers’ Federation that current exports Mina-Angan to Montana, USA, thanks to the efforts of Mary Hensley and her Eight Wonder, Inc.

Melong said it was difficult at first, but she persevered in organizing and persuading fellow Hungduan farmers to give their full commitment to Eight Wonder so they could produce and deliver at least 3,000 kilos or three tons of Mina-Angan every year to Montana, USA. They have been doing so since 2006.

“We worked hard together, and we were able to deliver,” she explained.

And things are looking bright, as Mina-Angan is gaining popularity among Montana rice-eaters.

“Now, we are required to produce five tons annually,” Melong said with a smile, as the additional two-ton production will not only provide additional income, but more importantly pride and joy to Hungduan farmers and their families.

But expertise alone is not enough to sustain the quality production of upland rice. With the absence of farm machineries, farmers do the chores manually, from planting, harvesting, to milling. The women even choose the best seeds for planting in succeeding season.

“Like our wood crafts, everything about Mina-Angan is handmade. Kaya po mas mahal, kumpara sa regular na bigas. (This is the main reason why it is a bit pricey, compared to the regular kind),” said Melong.

Her group is awaiting DA’s approval on their request for farm equipment to mechanize their operations, and enable them to produce more, with lesser effort, and reduce production costs.

“Sa ngayon po, kailangan namin ng mechanical thresher, rice mill, and other facilities,” Melong said.

With such equipment, she said they could surely increase their yield, lessen postharvest losses, trim production cost and thus provide consumers with relatively cheaper Mina-Angan rice.

Indeed, the Ifugao rice terraces and the mountains of the Cordilleras offer the world a lot of wonders, including novel upland rice that Filipinos, tourists and foreigners will surely relish and enjoy. (Adora Rodriquez, DA Information Service)


Photo captions
1 - Dolores Melong threshes by pounding Mina-Angan, an upland rice traditionally grown at the Hungduan rice terraces in Ifugao. It is exported to the US since 2006.

2 - Agriculture Secretary Proceso J. Alcala (3rd from left) has committed to share P20 million to restore the typhoon-damaged rice terraces in Batad, Ifugao. He is shown with Ifugao Governor Eugene Balitang (2nd from left) and DA-Cordillera regional director Marilyn Sta. Catalina,
stocking fish at one of the rice-fish or ‘palay-isdaan’ paddies.

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