Chawwa, an indigenous farming system, may save the rice terraces

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BANAUE, Ifugao – Little known but locally popular agricultural sharing and indigenous self-help system called “chawwa” is being resorted to in a bid to save the endangered rice terraces of Banaue, Ifugao.

The famed but deteriorating 2,000-year old agricultural and tourism marvel by native Ifugaos had taken further blows during the last typhoon as a huge landslide marred the terraces in Battad village, one of the more popular tourist sites.

Banaue town mayor Jerry Dalipog said that an age-old practice where another farmer-owner temporarily takes care of the farm lot of another who cannot tend his, and equally dividing the produce between them, may help save the endangered rice terraces. This practice is called chawwa.

Worsening devastation of rice terraces

In 1995, the Ifugao Rice Terraces Commission (ITC) pegged the devastation at 30 percent of the more than 1,000-hectare coverage of the rice terraces.

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) is considering to delist the rice terraces in Banaue, saying it is an endangered heritage site because the terraces have rapidly deteriorated in the past years.

Dalipog acknowledges that the economic importance of these rice terraces have shrunk for most of its owners, forcing them to leave town for better work opportunities.

The UNESCO team will return in 2012 to evaluate the status of the rice terraces.

But Banaue is not giving up yet. While seeking national and international attention, six villages in Banaue are piloting the “chawwa system” to rebuild these “sources of our culture, tradition and pride” – the 2,000 year old stone-walled rice terraces.

“Stewards Of The Terraces”

Implementing the “chawwa” starts with convincing owners to let the (LGU) become momentary stewards of the abandoned terraces while rebuilding it.

“We will hire farmers to do it for the LGU,” said Dalipog. This involves rebuilding the stone walls affected by landslides, managing the vegetation from the abandoned terraces, cleaning the irrigation system and re-vegetating it.

When harvest season comes, the owner of the terraces gets half and the other half goes to the LGU, to cover the cost of hiring farmers.

“We need national government and international agencies attention to this endeavour,” Mayor Dalipog said as Banaue, a fourth class town, can afford to spend only P500,000.

After the six villages (Viewpoint, Poblacion, Bokos, Poitan, Banga-an and Battad), the next 12 other villages will implement the “chawwa”.

“It might work,” said Councilor Jun Dumar. “If it had worked in the traditional times when untended farms kept on producing good highland rice by willing farmers, then we are employing this to save our heritage.”

We need help, Mayor Dalipog appealed. “Our cultural heritage is at stake because without the rice terraces, our distinctness as a people diminishes.” (

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