PUTTING DOWN ROOTS
HEIRLOOM RICE IS POSING A QUESTION FOR THE NEXT GENERATION: CAN YOU COMMERCIALIZE AND PRESERVE CULTURAL HERITAGE?
The terraces of the Northern Philippines were made as if they were ascending to the heavens. And it turns out, they really are heaven sent.
These rice fields are not only a cultural treasure, but they are also a source of life for the indigenous people as well as the numerous rice varieties across the country. On these ancestral lands rest the origins of over 300 variations of heirloom rice passed down from one generation to the next. And for good reason, considering heirloom rice’s exceptional nutritional value and international demand. In the US alone, the Rice Terraces Farmers Cooperative has exported around 100 metric tons of heirloom rice varieties such as tinawon and unoy since 2005, including a 24.4 metric ton shipment in 2012 worth P1.3 million.
The unoy or what locals call chong-ak is served during weddings, family reunions, and whenever an old relative is dying. Clusters of heirloom rice are displayed at the feet of the dead to symbolize their wealth.
“Ito na ang kinagisnan namin,” says Arsiña Baluyan, 46, a local farmer who’s been introduced to the Sagada ways ever since she was young. Baluyan’s family owns a small piece of land where she plants heirloom rice—together with her 27-year-old son—for personal consumption, and then sells whatever is left in the market.
Unoy is a glutinous rice used to make desserts and rice wine. At this year’s Madrid Fusion Manila, pastry chefs Miko Aspiras, Peachy Juban, and Kristine Lotilla erected an “edible wall” using four heirloom rice varieties: Kalinga Apayao, Mountain Province violet rice, heirloom brown rice, and South Cotabato heirloom rice.
While displays like this make a big impact on the local and international scene, a growing number of concerns has the agriculture sector worried. Although the rice is resilient, resistant to diseases, and withstands weather stress, small farmers can only produce so much, especially with the crop’s low-yielding capacity.Pork barbecue Baluyan and saysa bottle they of alsobeer have pest problems with field rodents.