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Ifugao Farmers Leave Rice Terraces

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ifugao rice terracesBaguilat, who recently joined a World Bank competition for development grants to finance preservation efforts in the rice terraces, said many of his former constituents have moved to Quirino, Isabela, Nueva Vizcaya and other provinces.

"In fact, Ifugao migrants now comprise a third of the population in Quirino," said Baguilat, who now heads the Save the Ifugao Terraces Movement.

Ifugaos farmers, who are either Tuwali, Kalanguya or Ayangan tribesmen, are mostly subsistence farmers who own only a quarter of a hectare that produces only 500 kilos of palay (unmilled rice) every six to eight months.

Because of poor income from upland farming, many Ifugaos turned to tourism-oriented activities such as woodcarving and weaving handicrafts. Others tried low-land farming in other provinces.

Baguilat, however, said there is still hope for Ifugao farmers, if they can only learn a revolutionary farming technology called System of Rice Intensification.

He said unlike the chemicals-hungry hybrid rice program promoted by the government, the SRI uses compost as fertilizer, requires less water and discourages the use of herbicides and pesticides.

System of Rice Intensification rejects the notion that the ricefields should be flooded with water throughout the growing season. Using less water by either drying the soil intermittently or keeping it moist but not saturated could even be more beneficial to the crop, according to its proponents.

The system also endorses the use of a mechanical rotary weeder, instead of herbicides for weed control and soil aeration.

Baguilat said with SRI, Ifugao farmers can significantly increase their harvest and income. "They can produce rice both for household consumption and commercial trade," he said.

He said organic rice from Ifugao can command better prices in Metro Manila.

Eldie Balog, an Ifugao farmer and chairman of Barangay Nagacadan in Kiangan, Ifugao confirmed that farmers in his area who employed the SRI technology earned higher yields.

Baguilat said SRI will encourage Ifugao farmers to continue maintaining the rice terraces. "We can save the Ifugao Rice Terraces through SRI," he said.

Baguilat's group was one of more than 80 organizations that participated in last week's Panibagong Paraan 2006, a World Bank competition of development ideas with P52 million in development grants at stake.

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization lists the Ifugao Rice Terraces as one of the world's heritage sites.