Involving youth through heritage education in the conservation of the Rice Terraces of the Philippine Cordilleras, Philippines

SITMo
Published: 05 October 2020
Last edited: 14 October 2020
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Summary

The Rice Terraces of the Philippine Cordilleras located in the mountain areas of Northern Luzon, were inscribed in the World Heritage (WH) List under criteria (iii), (iv) and (v) in 1995, as an organically evolved, living cultural landscape of outstanding universal value. Produced by the Ifugao ethnic group, the terraces are tangible testimonies of intergenerational transmission of their Indigenous worldview which represents harmony between humankind and the environment. In 2001, the property was put in the WH List in Danger due to deterioration caused by extreme weather conditions and socio-cultural changes, notably outmigration, loss of Indigenous knowledge and erosion of customary social institutions. The Save the Ifugao Terraces Movement (SITMo), a grassroots non-profit organization, is partnering with local and national governments, and scientific institutions for raising youth awareness on the interlinked cultural and natural values of the Rice Terraces through heritage education enabling their conservation.

Classifications

Region
Southeast Asia
Scale of implementation
Local
Subnational
Ecosystem
Agro-ecosystem
Agroforestry
Buildings and facilities
Cropland
Forest ecosystems
Freshwater ecosystems
River, stream
Tropical deciduous forest
Tropical evergreen forest
Urban ecosystem and build environment
Wetland (swamp, marsh, peatland)
Theme
Agriculture
Biodiversity mainstreaming
Culture
Food security
Indigenous people
Traditional knowledge
World Heritage
Challenges
Drought
Erratic rainfall
Increasing temperatures
Shift of seasons
Conflicting uses / cumulative impacts
Erosion
Infrastructure development
Lack of access to long-term funding
Lack of alternative income opportunities
Changes in socio-cultural context
Lack of public and decision maker’s awareness
Poor governance and participation
Unemployment / poverty
Sustainable development goals
SDG 2 – Zero hunger
SDG 4 – Quality education
SDG 8 – Decent work and economic growth
SDG 10 – Reduced inequalities
SDG 11 – Sustainable cities and communities
Aichi targets
Target 2: Biodiversity values integrated
Target 4: Sustainable production and consumption
Target 10: Ecosystems vulnerable to climate change
Target 15: Ecosystem restoration and resilience
Target 18: Traditional knowledge

Location

Kiangan, Ifugao, Philippines

Challenges

The main challenge is the poor state of conservation of the Ifugao Rice Terraces that has been linked to culturally-insensitive public policies and inadequate planning, which do not take into consideration the natural and human dimensions for conserving them. The terraces’ deterioration is due to several factors, including environmental (extreme weather), social (outmigration, loss of traditional knowledge, erosion of customary social institutions), and economic (subsistence agriculture, lack of alternative income). The conviction of SITMo is that the conservation of the Ifugao Rice Terraces is largely dependent on the continuity of the Ifugao Indigenous knowledge system, which mastered the natural environment creating a unique landscape and a distinct way of life. Hence, the work focuses on youth education, in order to pass on the traditional knowledge, based on interlinked natural and cultural values, and that would allow the sustainable development of Ifugao Indigenous people.

Beneficiaries

Local communities in Ifugao, Ifugao youth and Ifugao community at large

How do the building blocks interact?

In order to develop a sustainable strategy for the conservation of the Rice Terraces of Ifugao, there was a need to acknowledge the value of the Indigenous Ifugao culture. The rice terraces as heritage, are the product of hundreds of years of traditional knowledge and intergenerational transmission of a particular worldview. Developing partnerships between local activist groups like SITMo and the government (BB1), and scientific institutions that can continue research and back local traditional knowledge as a resource for biodiversity conservation (BB2) is instrumental for developing a curriculum that integrates Ifugao culture in the educational system (BB4). The establishment of a multi-functional community centre like the Indigenous Peoples Education Centre (BB3) creates the space and platform for a sustainable collaboration between partners, local communities, and continuous advocacy for the conservation of the terraces and Ifugao culture.

Impacts

Coordinated efforts of national, provincial and municipal governments, international funds and local communities participation have succeeded in removing the Rice Terraces from the WH List in Danger in 2012. Yet, the terraces are still in a vulnerable situation. SITMo promotes investing in education to raise awareness of heritage values in order to achieve sustainability. So far, concrete social and economic impacts are:

  • Educational system change: Culture is mandatory for the education department. Traditional knowledge is included in WH conservation, and Ifugao culture, history and language are integrated in the official curriculum.
  • Raised awareness: heritage value of the terraces becomes a daily life discussion of Ifugao people.
  • Acquisition of additional funding for advocacy, awareness raising and conservation activities. 

Story

Maya Ishizawa

The overall goal of the SITMo is to help improve the economic status of rice terraces farmers as a way of effecting continuity and conservation of the terraced landscape. SITMo always believed that conservation of the terraces is primarily anchored on the economic relations of people and the cultural landscape. While the terraces were constructed at a time of relative isolation of the Ifugaos, its economic function remained constant through the generations and through all the socio-political upheavals its history has gone through. Rice became the center of the cultural development of the Ifugao. Now, the terraces are left to an aging population of farmers whose traditional knowledge has no one to pass on to. An aging farmer said, “The remaining terraces you see are mere shadows of what we had in our childhood. During our time, people came together to work the fields. Each is expected to help in the stone walling, the planting, the harvesting. Our old priests prayed the rituals and offered sacrifices to the gods, the same gods our ancestors prayed to. The community gathered to work, to celebrate, to help each other. The seasons can bring down a terrace wall, too much rain, too much sun, we had those during our time - but we keep putting them back, stone by stone, paddy field after paddy field. We had to keep the terraces alive, we need to flood the pond fields for the next planting season. It’s what we did, just as the ancients taught us". 

 

 In our youth meetings, one teenager summarized all their concerns: “As young Ifugaos, we have the responsibility to take care of our heritage. Our rice terraces, our forests, the values and the Indigenous knowledge that come with all these things. Yet we are also children of the modern times. While our elders tell us to take care of the land, it is no longer enough to sustain us. Our population is getting bigger but the land is not getting any wider. While we want to keep our culture as Ifugaos, we also need to adapt to the realities of the modern times".

 

By comparing and assessing where the young and old are coming from, we realized that it doesn’t have to be a choice between staying put and moving forward. Culture has to change for it to survive yet it doesn’t mean totally leaving behind tradition. Compromises are necessary for culture change and conservation to work. Ifugao culture is what we have now. It can either change towards total forgetfulness of the past or the past adapting to the present. (Marlon Martin, SITMo)

Contributed by

Marlon Martin Save the Ifugao Terraces Movement (SITMo)

Other contributors

ICCROM-IUCN World Heritage Leadership