Monday, February 11, 2013

Rice, rice and more rice

In many places of the world, rice means food security, also in the Ifugao region, in the Philippines. These rice terraces are 2000 years old and are part of the UNESCO world heritage. 

The UNESCO world heritage rice terraces in Batad
Before eating rice there is a long process, starting with maintaining these terraces, a tremendously hard job usually performed by men. For the type of rice planted in Batad (irrigated rice), the field is flooded to avoid weed. Then the soil needs to be prepared and  ploughed. As crop residues are usually left on the fields, the soil preparation increases soil organic matter as well as fertility. I was told that water buffalo, small machines or manual labor are used to plough the fields. I have been looking around in the fields and in the farms, but i could not see any buffalo during my 3 day trip and i am wondering if they really exist. In revenche I have seen a women integrating the crop residues with her bare feet and a small machine on my way. 
the only machine seen during my trek
Then rice is planted and germinated into a very small fields that can be well protected from rodents and bireds. When the plant is big enough the rice in then transplanted into the fields
rice before transplantation
transplanted rice
In some place the bunds of the terraces are used to plant onions, paksoi or beans.

beans on the bunds
After the planting, the Ifugao hold a big festival where all the people from the different villages meet and enjoy the time after hard work and hoping for good harvest. Rice fields need to weeded from time to time, a typical woman's work and the irrigation well managed.
Irrigation of the rice fields is complex as it implies managing fields simultaneously
In June is harvesting time, and then several steps are needed from harvesting to our plate, namely drying, storing, milling, and processing. The riceworld museum at IRRI (International Rice Research Institute) in Los Banos, gives a nice overview of these processes as well as IRRI's webpage (Rice production and processing)

In Batad, there is one cropping season for all the fields. Certain fields, that are located within the mountain in such a way that they don't get affected by the typhoon, mainly the fields around the village (that is build in the typhoon save area) are cropped twice.
Also, no fertilizers are used. Since there is no road, fertilizer need to be carried from far away making it too expensive. Also the people i talk to did not seem to want to improve much on rice productivity, it is staple food for the home, it does not bring cash so why should you invest in fertilizer? The positive side of the lack of fertilizer use is that the fields are full of shells, and some have fish ponds. These by-product of rice helps people to diversify their diets and get sufficient proteins at low cost. Would they use fertilizer, both shells and fish would not survive.
The cercle in the fields indicate location that are much deeper than the 10 cm water, where fish is kept.

The rice production system I met around Batad, is not the most productive in terms of quantity of rice but seems to be a sustainable and well equilibrated system that support the people nutritional needs.


  1. Lovely to see a multi-functional agro-system 'in action'. Good piece of photo-journalism, and interesting to see the trade-offs that the villagers prefr to make.

    1. Happy to see that you enjoyed it... there will be some follow up posts in the upcoming weeks, looking beyond rice in the same area!

  2. By the way don't the fish
    a. add nutrients
    b. eat rice-pests?
    All in all a good way to get away from reliance on unaffordable and probably not very available agro-chemicals.
    Looking forward to the next installment.