IN my village, the number of heirloom rice is diminishing and replaced with the so-called high yielding varieties. This current scenario poses a serious problem on the conservation of indigenous heirloom rice. At one point, there were dozens of varieties. Depending on location and area, these varieties of heirloom rice can be called by different names although they have similar characteristics.
There are many factors involved in the increasing disappearance of heirloom rice. One primary reason, as stated by farmers and indigenous knowledge holders, is climate change. In the past, they said that the climate was fixed on a pattern, “naurnus di timpu handi.” With this, they can predict the arrival of rain and dry season. They can also anticipate the appearance of insects, birds and other animals that come with every season. With the knowledge learned from the past, the schedule of the agricultural cycle stayed in place for decades.
But with climate change, farmers are now confused with weather patterns. Their previous knowledge of weather and climate is challenged by this phenomenon of climate change.
Another reason mentioned is the weakened indigenous knowledge systems and practices (IKSP) due to the inroads of religion and education. With the lessening involvement of traditional agricultural leaders, the practice of synchronized opening of the agricultural cycle has become problematic. Other farmers start early while the rest begin late. With this, rice yield is decreased due to the infestation of rice pests.
As stated by farmers, the introduction of invasive species into the rice terraces has also affected the production of heirloom rice. Among these invasive species are: Asian swamp eel (kiwit), giant earthworms and golden apple snail. The combination of these three in the rice terraces has reduced the integrity of the structure of the terraces and yield of rice. Farmers have also mentioned the problem of new pests affecting the heirloom rice.
And another problem encountered in the village is the lack of labor force in the rice terraces. It is evident that more young people in the village prefer to go out for better opportunities while those who remain are more into commercial vegetable gardening. This means that only the older generation are engaged in actual rice farming.
These combined challenges in the village have pushed farmers to plant high yielding varieties or what they call migapas. These varieties have now been introduced in the terraces. Farmers now use fertilizers and pesticides to maintain the migapas. Based on the stories of farmers, the migapas reduce work from harvest to post-harvest since it does not need to be harvested the traditional way. The migapas can be harvested and brought to the thresher without drying it. This is different from the heirloom rice that is harvested one at a time, collected and bundled then stored in an alang. Before becoming heirloom rice, it should be dried under the sun or at the fireplace, pounded before it can be cooked
For now, the older generation are worried that the traditional rice might completely disappear. And if it disappears, this will also affect entirely the way we look at the rice terraces in terms of identity, heritage and food security.