UNESCO World Heritage: Rice Terraces of the Philippine Cordilleras

Banaue Rice Terraces in the Philippines Where Traditional Landraces Have Been Grown for Thousands of Years. McCouch S: Diversifying Selection in Plant Breeding. PLoS Biol 2/10/2004: e347.

Rice Terraces of the Philippine Cordilleras

For 2,000 years, the high rice fields of the Ifugao have followed the contours of the mountains. The fruit of knowledge handed down from one generation to the next, and the expression of sacred traditions and a delicate social balance, they have helped to create a landscape of great beauty that expresses the harmony between humankind and the environment.

Statement and Significance

The Ifugao Rice Terraces epitomize the absolute blending of the physical, socio-cultural, economic, religious, and political environment. Indeed, it is a living cultural landscape of unparalleled beauty.

The Ifugao Rice Terraces are the priceless contribution of Philippine ancestors to humanity. Built 2000 years ago and passed on from generation to generation, the Ifugao Rice Terraces represent an enduring illustration of an ancient civilization that surpassed various challenges and setbacks posed by modernization.

Reaching a higher altitude and being built on steeper slopes than many other terraces, the Ifugao complex of stone or mud walls and the careful carving of the natural contours of hills and mountains to make terraced pond fields, coupled with the development of intricate irrigation systems, harvesting water from the forests of the mountain tops, and an elaborate farming system, reflect a mastery of engineering that is appreciated to the present.

The terraces illustrate a persistence of cultural traditions and remarkable continuity and endurance, since archaeological evidence reveals that this technique has been in use in the region for 2000 years virtually unchanged. They offer many lessons for application in similar environments elsewhere.

Maintenance of the living rice terraces reflects a primarily cooperative approach of the whole community which is based on detailed knowledge of the rich diversity of biological resources existing in the Ifugao agro-ecosystem, a finely tuned annual system respecting lunar cycles, zoning and planning, extensive soil conservation, mastery of a most complex pest control regime based on the processing of a variety of herbs, accompanied by religious rituals.

Criterion (iii): The rice terraces are a dramatic testimony to a community’s sustainable and primarily communal system of rice production, based on harvesting water from the forest clad mountain tops and creating stone terraces and ponds, a system that has survived for two millennia.

Criterion (iv): The rice terraces are a memorial to the history and labour of more than a thousand generations of small-scale farmers who, working together as a community, have created a landscape based on a delicate and sustainable use of natural resources.

Criterion (v): The rice terraces are an outstanding example of land-use resulting from a harmonious interaction between people and their environment which has produced a steep terraced landscape of great aesthetic beauty, now vulnerable to social and economic changes.

The Banaue Rice Terraces have also been in-scripted to the List of World Heritage in Danger on 2001 as the dangers of deforestation and climate change threatens to destroy the terraces. Another contributing factor is globalization where the younger generations of the Ifugaos have recently had the opportunity to gain access to media and education, most of the younger Ifugaos have opted to come to the capital for work instead of the traditional farming tradition.

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