KASAMA Vol. 10 No. 1 / January-February-March 1996 / Solidarity Philippines Australia Network

World Heritage Listing for Cordillera Rice Terraces

The Rice Terraces of the Philippine Cordilleras, often referred to as "stairways to Heaven", were included last year in the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (Unesco) World Heritage List’s cultural landscapes category.

The areas listed in this category are considered to be sites of significant global value that demonstrate the interaction of man and nature. Listed sites are officially protected by the World Heritage Convention which seeks to preserve significant sites of natural and cultural value. The convention is ratified by over 140 countries, including the Philippines.

The cultivation of highland rice varieties by mountain terracing is practiced throughout Asia, but the Cordillera terraces are said to be the most extensive and unique. They cover the highest mountain peaks of five provinces - Ifugao, Kalinga-Apayao, Benguet, Mountain Province, Abra - and are located even on the steepest slopes, sometimes slanting 70 degrees.

The original work of Igorot peoples more than 2,000 years ago, the terraces were designed and built using the most basic tools and technology. Yet they still survive to this day as living ecosystems based on the efficient and respectful collective use of the mountains’ water resources.

The rice terraces have survived as a "living" cultural landscape because the indigenous peoples have preserved and maintained their own cultural heritage — a culture deeply rooted in the land and nature and creation. This is truly the special significance of the Cordillera.

— Dee Dicen Hunt