The rice terraces around Banaue are one of the great icons of the Philippines, hewn from the land 2000 years ago by Ifugao tribespeople using primitive tools, an achievement in engineering terms that ranks alongside the building of the pyramids. Called the “Stairway to Heaven” by the Ifugaos, the terraces would stretch 20,000km if laid out end to end. Not only are they an awesome sight, but they are also an object lesson in sustainability.
The terraces are on the UNESCO World Heritage list, and they will not last forever if they are not protected. They have always been subject to constant deterioration, due to weather erosion, imperfect irrigation systems and the actions of earthworms. Today, however, there’s a shortage of young people to help carry out repairs – rice farming has little allure for many of them; they are understandably tired of the subsistence livelihood their parents eked from the land and are either working in tourism or packing their bags for Manila. Alongside this, another recent pressure is the conversion of the rice terraces into vegetable terraces or into residential and commercial areas.