Mural by Dr Abe V Rotor
National Food Authority, NFA Regional Office Building, Cabanatuan City, AVRotor 2017
Details: Top, clockwise: native huts and mandala (haystacks), precipice typical in the Cordillera region, destruction of the watershed atop the rice terraces by logging and burning; garden like scene on the terraces, a wildlife sanctuary.
To Filipinos it is a monument of pride as a race, a living proof of indigenous ingenuity, and a legacy of pre-Hispanic culture. Which leads scholars to re-define civilization and to put it in proper perspective, other than what the Western World thinks.
The terraces are a stairway to heaven, piercing through the cloud, taller than the pyramids, the Tower of Babel, the Eiffel Tower - tallest of all man- made structures - built by bare hands with the crudest tools as early as three or two thousand years ago.
A collective masterpiece of tribes working in cooperation and peace, a prototype nation where people were governed by common aspirations, beliefs, language, customs, isolated from the outside world like the Aztecs and Mayans.
Agro-ecology - a modern term to describe harmony of agriculture and ecology -farming and environment - was born incognito and thrived for centuries, until modern man arrived, studied the "secrets of the rice terraces" and proclaimed himself the discoverer.
What does he know about the Hudhud, the narrative chants and dance and worship at planting time, harvest time, and other rituals? Would this mean anything to increased production, return of investment, research and development?
Believe in cloud seeding the natural way, when clouds collect atop the rice terraces, and condense into rain, gathered at the forest watershed, then slowly released terrace after terrace irrigating the rice plant crop, in precise amount and timetable.
Wonder how the rice varieties of the terraces were developed - varieties jibed with the habagat and amihan, and social life. It was a grave error in introducing 90-day varieties to have two harvests in a year instead of only one, which needed high input and mechanization.
Modernizing agriculture on the rice terraces by introducing chemical fertilizers, chemical pesticides, use of tractors and other machines, changed the indigenous cycle of the rice plant, so with the socio-economic and cultural lives of the people.
Floating vegetable culture (heap of organic soil) on the terraces, a version of Mexico's floating garden, and India's Sorjan, is no longer feasible with modern agriculture. So with fish culture, the source of food and protein of the inhabitants. The whole food chain and web has been disturbed.
Where is the new generation to take over the old folks, now in their past fifties or sixties - or older? Many terraces are no longer managed the way they were for centuries. They are facing deterioration that may end up to irreversible decline. Erosion, siltation, landslide, gully formation at work need serious and immediate attention.
The "native ambiance" is giving way to posh hotels, modern homes, well paved road networks, various establishments which cater to tourists. Lately a 7-storey parking building has sparked controversy; local officials and the National Commission for Culture and the Arts were appalled.
Banaue Rice Terraces, the tallest and the steepest cluster of terraces in the whole world was granted World Heritage Site status by UNESCO in 1995, the first of its kind, but in 2001 it was placed under the List of World Heritage in Danger because of its deteriorating state.
Fortunately it was removed from the list of sites in danger in 2012, but the story does not end there. With globalization taking away the young generation away from the terraces, climate change bringing in unexpected consequences, commercialization of changing the face the area, intrusion of destructive technology, this 8th world of the world may yet meet the sad fate of the other wonders of the ancient world. ~