Ifugao Rice Terraces in 'very critical stage of deterioration'

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, December 12) – The future of Ifugao communities hangs in the balance as the rice terraces which follows the natural contours of the Cordillera mountains, are currently in critical condition due to urban development and environmental abuse, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations.

“The [Ifugao] Rice Terraces are now in a very critical stage of deterioration and do not allow the local communities to overcome the poverty line,” the FAO said in a post on its website. 

The FAO noted that the historic cultural landscape had been “self-sufficient in food, timber and water” over the last century because of woodlot and communal forest, swidden farms, rice terraces, settlement areas and water bodies and irrigation systems. However, its continued survival is “threatened by various factors, such as environmental degradation, unregulated development and neglect brought about by urbanization and changing values,” the organization added.

“Ifugao terraces have a characteristically shaped landscape in the Mountains between 800 and 1500 meters. Indeed, they were previously forested areas while others are presumably grasslands. It is however, the availability of water that dictates the Ifugaos to build terraces and allowed them to create this system,” the FAO said.

The 2,000-year-old irrigated rice terraces, which was declared by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization as a World Heritage Site in 1995, have been central to the lives of locals there.

A population of more than 160,000 relies on the terrace system to grow agricultural produce, from which they source their income, FAO said.

The Ifugao Rice Terraces are part of the FAO's Globally Important Agricultural Heritage Systems (GIAHS). GIAHS is defined as "a living, evolving system of human communities in an intricate relationship with their territory, cultural or agricultural landscape or biophysical and wider social environment."