Banaue Rice Terraces Threats

The rice paddies that fall in terraces down the steep mountain sides of the Philippine island of Luzon are crumbling under the combined onslaught of worms and a rapidly shrinking rural population.

Worms began proliferating about 10 years ago in the paddies of Banaue in Ifugao Province. 

This increase began in the early 1980s after paddy fields began to be turned into the more profitable vegetable fields.

As the worm population increased, they spread into the surrounding rice paddies. Today not a single lot of rice paddy in the area is without worms.

The paddies are one of the most important assets of the Philippines' tourism industry, which promotes them as "the eighth mystery of the world," and the loss of them is a worrying prospect.

Rice paddies have always been farmed in the same way. Water is channeled into the uppermost paddies first. From there it overflows into the next paddy down until each paddy is brimming with water--irrigation like a champagne tower.

Worms burrow and they create spaces through which water can flow between paddies. But too many worms make the water drain too fast and the paddies begin to dry up. Once dry the soil is like clay and it cracks easily. So when water is poured into a paddy that has been allowed to dry, it will often collapse, taking with it the stone wall that borders the paddy.

So far, only a few paddies have collapsed. But, if no steps are taken, the rice terraces will continue to be destroyed in the next decades.

Another threat to the Banaue rice terraces is represented by the recent social changes. In Banaue, the declining population means that there is a shortage of labor to keep the paddies in good maintenance.

Many of Banaue's young people have abandoned farming and moved to the big cities to look for work, leaving just children and the elderly in the town. For them the work of looking after the rice paddies is too arduous.

It is difficult to blame the young of Banaue for leaving given the level of poverty in the area. In the Philippines, a family must have at least one hectare of rice paddy to earn a living from farming, but in Banaue, each farming household has a rice paddy averaging about 250 square meters.

Farmers have no substantial savings, and mostly just scratch a living and this means that if their paddy walls collapse, the family often cannot afford to fix it.