With bare hands and primitive tools, traditional farmers in the highlands of the Phippines have been shaping the Banaue or Ifugao rice terraces into a grandeur feat that attracts the attention of worldwide visitors. The rice terraces with the cluster sites are dated more than 2,000 years old. These spectacular creations, however, are now in danger of crumbling down into oblivion. The Area in Danger These terraces are situated in the mountain region of the northern part of the Philippines about 340 kilometers away from Manila.
From here, the high place could be reached some 8 to 9 hours by motor ride. These terraces have been hand-fashioned like great stairs that if laid straight from one point to another are capable of encircling half the earth’s diameter. For thousands of years, this magnificent human feat has intruded human imagination boosting human creativeness and ingenuity. For all the good attributes rendered to this property, the United Nations Educational Scientific Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has listed the site as a world heritage dubbing it as the “Eight Wonder of the World.
In 1973, the Philippine government gave these heritage properties a special recognition as a national landmark of being a valuable treasure. In 1995, the UNESCO inscribed the Banaue Rice Terraces and the cluster sites in the World Heritage List. In 1994, by virtue of the Presidential Executive Order 158, it created the Ifugao Rice UNESCO Terraces Commission that gives advisory matters to the Philippine President regarding factors affecting them. Diverse Life Forms For thousands of years, the terrace has been serving as home for diverse life forms including aquatic animals, fishes, etc.
, thriving in the water-filled, pollution-free paddies. The terrace is also a home for some native red rice varieties and other indigenous rices, which are also considered endangered. In recent years, however, keen observers have noted some negative changes happening within and outside the terraces. Some contributing factors that have been diverting the terraces to these negative changes include environmental degradation and neglect, the rampant use of synthetic pesticides, degrading rice yield, fast rate of urbanization, growing poverty among terrace farmers, and the fermentation of the once solid indigenous folk cultures.
Some parts of the heritage property, which were once verdantly green and fertile have now turned into partly eroded brownish, drying grasslands. In 1950, a data report from Abano (2007) shows that farmers cultivated some 15,000 hectares (about 37,000 acres) of this highland terrace. Today, that figure has dwindled to merely 5,000 hectares (about 12,000 acres) maintained by some 100,000 tribal farmers. UNESCO gave warnings in 2001 the possibility of delisting the Banaue Rice Terraces from the World Heritage List.
This is because little efforts have been exerted in saving the heritage property from widening irreversible damage. From a distance, desolate terraced landscapes have already shown wears while other similar areas slowly UNESCO disappear due to lack of care. Younger populations from the darkly terraced areas have instead preferred to migrate to the cities where ‘the lights are brighter’ with more income opportunities to choose from. This transmigration has resulted to erosion, not only of the physical terraces they till, but also of the culture and traditions they have been preserving for thousands of years.