Powering the Philippine Stairway to Heaven

Asuncion, Calanog, Maleval, Sison, Tabuena, Tan, Tiambeng

        Throughout many years, the Banaue Rice Terraces of the Ifugao province has been hailed as one of the greatest wonders of the Philippines. Its beauty and purpose is known worldwide and the country takes great pride in its existence. However, the preservation of the terraces’ structure has been difficult; many parts have already deteriorated or have eroded away. Moreover, it currently becomes more and more difficult to balance that priority of preservation with the necessity of harvest.  This difficulty is only made continuously worse when locals have very limited resources. Many members are living in poverty and in the process of trying to save the terraces, their quality of life may suffer.

Banaue Rice Terraces       Fortunately, there is a program that tries to strike these balances, while developing the community further. The Global Sustainable Electricity Partnership undertook the development of a mini-hydropower plant (200kW) on Ifugao’s Ambagal River and established a rice terraces conservation fund financed by the plant’s revenues in power production.

        As compared to other efforts, this is deemed to be more sustainable because of how it uses the forces of nature to create electricity. 

Unesco Reference Sign

Powered by the natural flow of the river, the mini

-hydropower plant is expected to generate 1.443 MWh of energy per year, around 18% of the province’s total energy demand, and 70,000USD for the conservation fund. Think of it as a two-birds-one-stone natured program. As expected, the energy produced will be supplied to locals for the supplementation of their lifestyles while the money in the conservation fund will be used to pay for the protection and preservation of the rice terraces. Admittedly, this amount of money wasn’t available before and will make a huge positive difference in ongoing attempts.

       The program even sends a different positive message: the promotion of the development of sustainable mini-hydro power resources in rural areas of the Philippines. Normally, it is programs like this that represent the beginning of revolutionizing a country in terms of development impact. this is one of the first few steps.

Ifugao Ambangal project

        The project was subjected to an environmental and social impact assessment under the supervision of Tokyo Electric Power Company which lasted for a year. The study concluded that the project posed no major negative impact on the environment of the area and if present, these minor negative impacts could be mitigated. The project took into context the natural elements and surrounding environment of the place making sure that no major harm would be done. Another added bonus is that this project was in line with the ancestral Ifugao practices that viewed water as a primary life source.

Ifugao locals

        Local residents welcomed sustainable development projects and looked forward to the project’s contribution to the local economy. Manual Dulawan, a historian and noted authority on Ifugao authority, stated that “the whole project will not negatively impact local beliefs, customs or rituals.”

”At the start when you were coming to consult with us, we were doubtful and suspicious. We were concerned because part of our forest and rice land will be affected. But after the series of meetings and contacts, I began to change my mind, especially when I saw how the team was seriously working even during bad weather. This was also observed by our neighbours. We gave our consent even if we were not 100 percent sure. But it was a good decision and I was happy when the project started construction and the lands affected were compensated. During the inauguration, there were many people who attended. I am convinced that the project, as you have been saying during the many community meetings, is for the benefit of the community.”

– Eliza Guimbungan, resident of Pindongan, Kiangan.

        This does not mean, however, that the Banaue Rice Terraces can be saved by a single new effort. As a national (and even international) treasure, it requires national efforts in protection. This project primarily signified the importance of preservation. Can we really say that the government organizations and Filipinos elsewhere have been doing enough? What needs to be done now (alongside the program) is the increasing of awareness across communities through the power of government organizations or even educational institutions. The rice terraces comprises a large portion of the Philippine identity. Each Filipino does have a responsibility to protect.

http://www.globalelectricity.org/upload/File/Project Communciations/IFUGAO publication FINAL.pdf
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