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Tuesday, December 6, 2011

DA allots P30M to restore Ifugao Rice Terraces

The Department of Agriculture is spearheading a P30-million national government initiative to restore the grandeur of the world-famous Ifugao Rice Terraces and maintain its status as a UNESCO ‘World Heritage’ site and one of the ‘Globally-Important Agricultural Heritage Systems’ or GIAHS as declared by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

Agriculture Secretary Proceso J. Alcala, in a November 25 meeting with local and national government officials at the Banaue Hotel, said the DA is allotting an initial P30M, of which P10 M from the DA’s National Irrigation Administration (NIA) will be used to repair eroded and damaged portions, and reinforce the irrigation systems of the rice terraces at Batad town.

The remaining P20M from the DA’s national rice program will be spent to reinforce and upgrade similar rice terraces in four other locations. These include the picturesque Banaue rice terraces that can be seen at the Dianara Viewpoint, and three other rice terraces in Mayoyao, Hapao and Kiangan.

“Kailangan nating lutasin ang problema ng rice terraces. Ito po ang utos ni Pangulong Aquino, kaya po ako nagpunta rito,” said Secretary Alcala during a meeting attended by Ifugao officials led by Governor Eugene Balitang, Representative Teodoro Baguilat Jr., and several municipal mayors.

He told them the DA is also allotting an additional P25 million to implement several agricultural projects via counterparting arrangement with the 11 municipalities and the provincial government of Ifugao.

For his part, Director Dante Delima, DA national rice program coordinator, said the DA extends its full support to restore the Ifugao rice terraces mainly because it is one of the country’s most important contributions to the FAO’s GIAHS.

The FAO cites the Ifugao rice terraces as “the country's only remaining highland mountain ecosystem, featuring the ingenuity of the Ifugaos, and a remarkable agricultural farming system which has retained the viability as well as the efficacy of the 2,000 year-old organic paddy farming.”

Director Delima said the continued viability of the rice terraces displays a strong relationship between culture and nature. Communal forests that support the rice terraces are unique examples of sustainable agricultural practices. More than just tourist attractions, the rice terraces also serve as food security and environmental conservation measure for the people.

Alongside restoring the grandeur and legacy of the rice terraces, Delima said the DA will procure from Ifugao and other Cordillera farmers’ heirloom or upland rice varieties that the DA will maintain, purify and propagate into starter seeds. These will be used for succeeding planting seasons at the rice terraces and other upland areas in the country.

Delima said the starter seeds will be distributed free to farmers, on condition that they pay back the DA in kind, at one and a half sacks for every sack of seeds given them. The collected seed payments will in turn serve as buffer stock for distribution to other farmers.

Through this program, native heirloom rice varieties like tinawon, unoy and ulikan are revived and sustained, Delima said.

He said producing heirloom rice is profitable because they are more expensive than lowland rice. This is despite the low yield of less than three tons per hectare.

He said the DA also plans to establish an upland rice processing center in Ifugao that will also feature a museum on traditional rice farming. Aside from enhancing rice production, the facility will also serve as a cultural and tourist attraction.

Meanwhile, the DA through National Irrigation Administration (NIA) has allotted P40 million to expand the Hapid irrigation system at Barangay Hapid in Lamut, Ifugao.

NIA Administrator Antonio Nangel said the amount will be used to construct a diversion dam that would double the present service area of 1,400 hectares to 2,800 hectares, thus benefiting more farm-families.

Once the project is completed, the NIA will provide a ‘seed fund’ of P1 million for the Hapid irrigators’ association for the maintenance of the irrigation system.

“The province of Ifugao offers vast agricultural potential. It plays a key role in our thrust for rice self-sufficiency. This will only be possible through the establishment of good irrigation systems like the one in Hapid,” Nangel told local officials and farmers during a forum in Lamut.

He said the NIA has set aside in 2012 a total of P105.7 million to maintain and repair several irrigation projects in Ifugao. DA Information Service

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