The Ifugao rice terraces are a cultural treasure of the people of the Philippines Cordilleras and a UNESCO world heritage site, but they are endangered. The Last Mile Initiative-Philippines, an activity of the Nathan-managed EMERGE project funded by USAID, recently launched the Puggo Community E-Center to give the world a virtual window into the rice terraces in an effort to preserve them. (“Puggo” translates from the local language as “from the mountains.”)
Ifugao is poor and remote, and the tradition of maintaining the rice terraces has suffered as the youth from the area seek opportunity elsewhere. Of the 15,000 hectares cultivated in the 1950s, only an estimated 8,500 hectares are maintained now. The area is undervalued and underpromoted.
The Save the Ifugao Terraces Movement (SITMO), a nongovernmental organization, was formed to help maintain the area’s unique culture by promoting ecotourism. SITMO sees the Internet as a way to make the world aware of the engineering wonder of irrigated rice paddies carved out of mountains, as well as the surrounding lush forests and pristine waterfalls that are integral to the functioning of the rice terraces. “The e-center will be helpful in our endeavor to make Ifugao economically developed and sustained as a world heritage site and a world-class ecotourism destination,” says SITMO President Teddy Baguilat.
Major corporations provided the e-center with computer equipment, software and applications, and broadband satellite connection. The Last Mile Initiative trained SITMO and local government staff in management, computer troubleshooting, graphic design, web development, and trainers’ training on computer literacy for the larger community so the center can be operated by local personnel when the EMERGE project ends.
“Aside from training us in developing print materials and a website for SITMO, the Community E-center will be of great use for documenting Ifugao traditions and beliefs,” says Florence Manangan, executive director of SITMO. The center will be used to document visual arts, digitize and restore photos and manuscripts, map genealogies, and digitally archive oral traditions in order to develop a database of Ifugao literature, arts, beliefs, and traditions.