Keynote Speech: Science-Policy Forum on the Sustainability of the Rice Terrace Systems (Hani and Ifugao): Building Learning Alliance

July 30, 2015

Keynote Speech of Senator Loren Legarda
Science-Policy Forum on the Sustainability of the Rice Terrace Systems (Hani and Ifugao): Building Learning Alliance
30 July 2015 | Hotel Jen, Manila

It is always with great pleasure that I take part in gatherings that are crucial in saving not only our intangible heritage and our natural resources, but also our people’s way of life.

I congratulate the Ifugao State University and the United Nations University Institute for the Advanced Study of Sustainability for their efforts in bringing great minds to one room to discuss a pressing and complex issue—the survival of our rice terrace systems. I also commend the Asia Pacific Network for Global Change Research in their support for this three-year project on “Developing Ecosystem-based Adaptation Strategies for Enhancing Resilience of Rice Terrace Farming Systems against Climate Change.”

Everyone here today has something to offer the country and the world. It is in dedicating your time, effort and talents that our rice terraces manage to thrive in the most trying circumstances.

Earlier this year, the Ifugao Archaeological group led by Dr. Stephen Acabado and Dr. John Peterson announced that the rice terraces are 300-400 years old based on their comprehensive research. This disrupts what was thought to be fact, that the terraces were 2,000 years old and opens it to a lot of questions and debates. Whichever is the fact, it does not change the urgency of the conservation, protection and development of the Ifugao Rice Terraces.

Our rice terraces are not commodities. The real value of these terraces is measured by the lives and history it nurtures, enriched by people who call it their home.

Last month, in sync with the celebration of the 49th Ifugao Foundation Day, I conducted an official Senate committee hearing at the Provincial Capitol to determine the impacts of climate change affecting the local communities in the Cordillera region and to discuss issues on environmental sustainability and heritage conservation, including the threats to the Ifugao Rice Terraces.

I have learned many things from that consultation. The people of Ifugao consider water management, agriculture, ecological knowledge and rituals entwined. But as assimilation of the people of Ifugao, especially the younger generation, in Philippine society continue to transform them, the meaning of these powerful rituals associated with taking care of the terraces diminish.

The challenge now is how we can accept this irreversible shift while still finding ways to continue the tradition and rituals associated with cultivating rice in these terraces season after season. The people of Ifugao need to make a conscious decision to protect it, to become farmers, caretakers, and find pleasure and pride in being part of a special group of people, who have inherited this unique land from their ancestors. We cannot shield the young people from their exposure to modernity and technology; in fact we should encourage them, but side-by-side with this exposure should be an effective campaign to encourage them to become guardians of these cultural landscapes. I believe the Hani people also incorporate the practice of cultural traditions in preserving the Hani Rice Terraces of China. These practices should be conserved and nurtured.

In Ifugao, I have supported the restoration of one of the villages in Banaue back to its traditional feel as part of an initiative to promote Bangaan as a “Living Cultural Landscape.” I hope its beauty inspires more communities to building traditional houses, which are resilient structures.

I have also supported the project of the state universities and colleges (SUCs) in the Cordillera region in producing the coffee table book titled Guardians of the Forest, Stewards of the Land. The book is an impressive work that gives tribute to the forefathers of the Cordillerans who were true models of sustainability.

The Cordillera Region is home to a number of indigenous forest conservation systems, like the muyung in Ifugao, batangan in Mountain Province, imong in Kalinga, chontog in Benguet, and lapat in Abra and Apayao. These forest management practices are farming systems made distinct by the traditions of each indigenous community and exemplify the values that these culture-bearers keep.

Resilience and sustainability are two important factors that must be incorporated in development programs and natural resources management especially with climate change in our midst.

Climate change is expected to increase rainfall intensities and lengthen the duration of the dry season, resulting in water shortages, landslides and terrace collapse. For Ifugao, the climate projections are the following (1) Increase in temperature of 0.9°C by 2020 and 1.9°C to 2.1°C by 2050; (2) Highest increases in rainfall are projected during June and August; and (3) Decreasing trends in rainfall are expected during the hottest periods around March and May.

The Hani Rice Terraces may also be facing these challenges because climate change knows no boundaries. We have been warned that if global temperatures increase by 4 degrees Celsius, coastal cities will be inundated; dry regions will become drier, while wet regions will be wetter; there will be extreme heat waves, water scarcity, stronger tropical cyclones, and loss of biodiversity.

With climate change in our midst, we are engaged to be faithful to our duty as stewards of the earth. The sustainability practices of the Ifugao and Hani people should be emulated.

As your delegations convene to talk about scientific and technical solutions to these problems, I urge you to always remember that sustainable conservation can only succeed if the stakeholders are actively involved. We need to motivate the people who are direct custodians of these terraces—both the Hani and Ifugao. We need to keep them inspired to protect a rich heritage and a bountiful land.

In closing, I wish to stress that the ways and means of our indigenous peoples may be ancient as to the standards of modern society, but everything that we have now is not a product borne out of the minds of people from this generation alone, but a reflection of the creativity, resourcefulness and passion of those people who have lived long ago creating their own identity, building a sustainable community, forming unique practices, surviving with their own rich culture, passing it on to their children, and generously sharing it with others. The knowledge systems and practices of our IPs are the same solutions that will help us address the challenges of modern times.

Thank you.