By Jullie Y. Daza
We’re on the verge of losing Boracay. We’ve lost Quezon City’s forest in the city. Let’s not lose the eighth wonder of the world, Banaue’s rice terraces.
Declared a World Heritage Site by Unesco in 1995, the terraces slipped to precarious depths when the same Unesco put them in the “danger list” in 2001. Eleven years later, they were declared out of danger and removed from the list, which is not to say that this marvel of architecture – a “stairway to the sky” – is safe from typhoons and landslides, soil erosion, neglect, and the lack of interest shown by the younger generation.
Still, the truth remains that it’s a work in progress, restoring those terraces. There are five clusters of the farms in four municipalities, and in just one, Banaue, 600 ha of abandoned rice paddies need to be revived. On a trip to Banaue a few years ago, Dr. Mila How, farmers advocate, was so touched by the deteriorating condition of the terraces that then and there she decided to raise P6 million to save “one cluster at a time.” In partnership with the local government, she expects the MOA, signed in 2015, to yield the second harvest from 29 ha in 2019.
The project has so consumed Dr. How, who heads Universal Harvester Inc., manufacturer of fertilizer, that she has brought in scientists from other countries to see how their expertise might stop the erosion, published an impressive coffee-table book weighing more than I can carry with one arm, and organized an international music composers competition inspired by Banaue, its people, their landscape, history, culture and traditions. The book and competition will be launched on March 8, and if that’s not enough, her TOFARM Film Festival of movies about farmers is scheduled for another round later this year, under a new festival director after the demise last month of Maryo J. delos Reyes.
The book, A Banaue Story: Restoring a World Heritage Site, is 248 pages long and contains stunning photographs and two reproductions of Amorsolo paintings done in the ‘40s, a collection worth its weight in a hundred sacks of rice. Dr. How and her team of writers, editors, historians, anthropologists, photographers worked for over a year, their product the next best thing to spending one week in a classroom to learn about a labor of love that we’ve taken for granted for the last 600 years.