Friday, August 31, 2012, 00:00

Seeds of Chinese tillers’ wisdom

By Rossie Indira

Seeds of Chinese tillers’ wisdom

One of the Ifugao Rice Terraces in the Philippines Cordilleras, the Hungduan Rice Terraces, is part of Globally Important Agricultural Heritage Systems (GIAHS), a project launched by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations in 2002.

The initiative aims to establish the basis for international recognition, conservation and adaptive management of GIAHS, their biodiversity, knowledge systems, food and livelihood security and cultures.

GIAHS pilot sites are in Peru, Chile, China, the Philippines, Tunisia, Algeria, Kenya and Tanzania. China has several pilot sites. The first is the Qingtian Rice Fish Culture System of Zhejiang province. The others are the Hani Rice Terraces in Yunnan province, Wannian Rice Culture in Jiangxi and Congjiang Dongs Rice-Fish-Duck System in Guizhou province.

Wannian in Heqiao village is one of the worlds oldest sites of cultivated rice dating back to the South-North Dynasty (420 AD-581 AD). Wannian traditional rice, offered as a tribute to the emperors, is one of the earliest types of cultivated rice still grown today.

Ingenious Wannian people have also documented their experiences in cultivating traditional rice and rice culture since time immemorial, FAO says. The rice culture is closely related to their daily life, expressed in their customs, food and language, and form an important part of their cultural diversity.

Others who manage such terraces can learn from the Chinese how to document their experiences in cultivating rice.

The Hani Rice Terraces in Yunnan are similar to the Ifugao Rice Terraces. They are one of the best examples of Chinese farmers wisdom. The Hani Rice Terraces are built on difficult terrain. There are flourishing forests above the villages and below are the terraces.

The ethnic Hani community has lived in the Ailao Mountain area in Honghe for more than 1,300 years. There are similarities between the Hani Rice Terraces with their forests and the Hungduan Rice Terraces with their muyong (privately owned forests) above the rice terraces. The Ifugao can learn from the Hani how to protect the forests so that they can sustain their cultivation.

The Ifugao have always had a rice-fish culture. It might be useful to study Congjiang Dongs Rice-Fish-Duck System. Congjiang county in Guizhou province is located in a mountainous area far from rivers and seas. Their rice-fish-duck system has a history of over 2,000 years. The glutinous rice from Congjiang takes longer to grow, allowing fish in the paddies to mature to a large size; ducks can also be raised in the rice fields. This system helps conserve biological diversity, control diseases and pests, regulate the climate, conserve water sources and benefit the environment.

I have heard about the rice-fish-duck system, says Wajan Sudja, a fish grower from Sumbawa, Indonesia. I have to study how they do it in China and if it can be implemented here too.

Though the Ifugao Rice Terraces were put on UNESCOs List of World Heritage Sites in Danger in 2001, it seems the government has done little research on why they are diminishing. Experts say more studies should be done on the indigenous knowledge systems and practices so as to offer solutions for farmers. This would boost the local economy and improve living standards.

The Chinese, on the other hand, have diligently identified, documented and perfected indigenous knowledge systems and practices to sustain the ecosystems. The Chinese government has backed research on indigenous agricultural and environmental conservation practices. These farming methods not only fit the natural environment, but also meet local demands of economic and cultural development. Most importantly, they fit the need to preserve agricultural heritage.

The Philippines government should work together with the Ifugao to establish programs to improve their standard of living through the revival of traditional practices. The government should boost the economic independence of the mountain people so that they continue to preserve their heritage.