By Lilybeth G. Ison
MANILA, Sept. 7 (PNA) — Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel “Manny” Piñol has approved the creation of the Ifugao Rice Terraces Development Council (IRTDC) and committed an initial funding of Php 1-million (AUD28,600) for its operations.
The centuries-old Banaue Rice Terraces, acclaimed as one of the Seven Wonders of the World, is now the focus of a rehabilitation and development program of the government.
Piñol said the organisation of the council aims to repair damaged dikes, rehabilitate abandoned paddies, increase productivity of the heirloom rice and promote the organic Tinawon rice (Heirloom Rice) worldwide.
The IRTDMC will be spearheaded by the local government units (LGUs) and supported by the DA, the Departments of Tourism (DOT) and the Environment and Natural Resources (DENR). They will come up with a comprehensive program to develop the rice terraces.
“By 2018, I hope to be able to include in the DA’s budget a huge amount to realise the dreams of the Cordillerans for the return of the iconic Rice Terraces to their old grandeur and improve the lives of the farmers who have kept the centuries-old tradition of planting organic rice varieties passed on for generations,” said Piñol in a statement.
“I intend to propose a Php1-billion (AUD28.6-B) fund for the repair, rehabilitation and development of the rice terraces, he said.
In his recent visit last Aug. 31, the DA, through regional director Lorenzo Caranguian, also turned over to the Ifugao farmers Php 46-million worth of equipment.
Additional equipment were also committed to the municipalities who sought support from the DA, including a mini-cultivator which could be carried by two people to be used in cultivating the paddies in the rice terraces.
For ages, Piñol said, the Cordillera rice terraces farmers used their feet to prepare the paddies for planting. Carabaos were not used in plowing the fields because the animals’ hoofs could destroy the rice terraces.
One hundred heads of Holstein Dairy Cattle will also be distributed to the Heirloom Rice Farmers to provide them with additional sources of income since they harvest only once a year.
Under the Dairy Program, the milk produced by the Heirloom Rice Farmers will be used in a milk-feeding program in their own communities thus opening a ready market for their produce.
Using organic feeds available in the area, the program is also expected to produce organic fertilizers to be used in the rice terraces to increase the productivity of the farmers from the current 2.5 metric tons (MT) per hectare to at least 3.5 MT.
The Heirloom Rice, which has been classified as a High Value Crop, is now being bought for Php80 (AUD2.30) per kilo and sold in the market for as much as Php120 (AUD3.40) per kilo.
While the demand is great, the supply of the Heirloom Rice, however, is limited.
With the current focus of government on the Heirloom Rice production, it is expected that Cordillera Rice Terraces farmers will get more blessings by simply embracing a farming tradition passed on from one generation to another for centuries now.
During his term, former DA Secretary Proceso Alcala allotted more than Php500 million (AUD 14.3 million) for various agricultural, irrigation, and infrastructure projects in the six provinces of the Cordillera region, to further prop up the region’s distinction as a major source of vegetables and other high-value crops.
The bulk of the fund, amounting to Php268 million mainly from the National Irrigation Administration (NIA), was allotted for the repair and rehabilitation of several irrigation systems in Ifugao, Mt. Province, and Benguet that were damaged by recent typhoons, including some portions of the Ifugao Rice Terraces.
Alcala also committed an additional Php20 million (AUD571,400) from the DA-Cordillera and national rice program for the repair and upgrade other rice terraces in Banaue, Mayoyao, Hapao, and Kiangan.
He also committed to put up one village-type rice processing center in all six Cordillera provinces, worth Php20 million (AUD571.400) each, for a total of Php120 million (AUD 3.4 million).
The former DA chief also provided each province two four-wheel tractors, worth Php48 million, under a counterparting arrangement.