Suggested citation: Camhol,A.(2009). Endangered Management Practices in Traditional Rice Production: The Pingkol Dilemma. Nurturing Indigenous Knowledge Experts among the younger generations, Phase 3. nikeprogramme.net. https://nikeprogramme.net/?p=351
This paper discusses an Ifugao “best practice”-the pingkol. Pingkol are vegetable mounds found in the rice terraces during fallow season of the Ifugao traditional rice cycle. The research which included interviews and periodic site visits shows that the practice is on its way to extinction. Causes are the introduction of alien life species to the Ifugao biosphere and changes in farming methods. Drastic measures are required to arrest and reverse its impending death.
Of the often overlooked parts or aspects of the Ifugao Rice Terraces (IRT) is the pingkol (Lit. “rounded”). These are mounds of decaying plant material primarily rice stalks, ricefield waternymph (Najas graminea) or “bagiw” in the Ifugao Tuwali language, flating fern (Azolla pinnata) or “halibubu”, water hyacinths, duckweed and other leafy succulent plants which are made by farmers during the rice cycle’s fallow season and planted with an assortment of vegetables like pechay, cabbage, spring onions, garlic, legumes and others.
Pingkol season starts at around September, roughly a month after harvest. This is the time when the rice stalks in the terraces are beginning to rot and decay. The pingkol-maker uproots the stalks and along with other succulent leafy plants growing in the terraces piles and shapes them into dome-like mounds, measuring two feet in diameter and two feet in height. These are topped with flating fern and ricefield waterweed, the most fertile components of the pingkol, which are also found in the rice terraces. This ensures that the vegetable grow fast and fat.
The pingkol practice is “as old as the rice terraces themselves,” a gnarled but sprightly woman in her 80’s informed the researcher.
Cabbages on mounds within a rice pond. Photo: Armand N. Camhol, 2007
It is a way in which the Ifugao traditional farmers make good use of the fallow season. It has two benefits for farmers-a. as additional source of organic health food; b. organic fertilizer as it is plowed back into the terraces after the vegetables are harvested.
No book, journal article, nor thesis dealt solely on the Ifugao best practice pingkol. More often, it was only mentioned in passing on discussions of the rice terraces like the “…mounds” which shows the Ifugao”… a highly skilled agriculturist” in Barton’s Ifugao Economics (1922). Barton’s emphasis is on the aerating effect on the mounds, leveling off the impact of being underwater for almost a year. He wrongly identified the mounds as “soil heaped up”. Conklin (1980, p. 14) calls the practice “mulch-mounding”. The Central Cordillera Agricultural Programme or CECAP (2000, pp. 51-53) mistakenly refers to pingkol as “inago”. Culhi (1999, pp.18-29) provides a more in – depth analysis of the pingkol with an accompanying recommendation towards farmers and policy-makers for its preservation because of its effect in correcting zinc deficiency with the soil being underwater for as long as a year.
In relation to the pingkol, a journal article (Martin & Sauerborn 2000) argues that the ricefield water nymph (Najas graminea) or bagiw is a “keystone species because of its crucial role in maintaining the organization and diversity of the aquatic community which also has impacts on the terrestrial community of the agro ecosystem.” This conclusion was based from Martin & Sauerborn’s study which saw that the subterranean community in the rice fields depends heavily on the presence of the water nymph as it provides food for small crustaceans and gastropods which in turn are prey for snails, fish and other predators. The study saw that the introduction of the pest golden apple snail (Pomacea canaliculata) or “golden kuhol” or “kuhol” in the Ifugao vernacular-unlike in other “modern production systems” of Southeast Asia-“caused no appreciable damage in the Ifugao rice terraces.” Explanation offered is the “presence of a high biomass of wild aquatic plants”-the flating fern (Azolla pinnata) or halibubu and the waternymph as these two offered alternative food to the golden apple snail. This study was done before the year 2000 and with my interaction with farmers, I believe that while the first part of their findings are true-that bagiw and halibubu are crucial components of the Ifugao agroecosystem, the latter conclusions-that kuhol damage is controlled with the presence of these aquatic plants-is debunked. After seven years, the “golden kuhol” may have succeeded in exterminating them.
The Pingkol Problem
In the province, the practice on pingkol is dying. Only in the few remotest areas can the pingkol still be found as modern civilization has introduced other preoccupations and disturbances to farmers. Pingkol’s retreat is caused by two major reasons: (a) the introduction of exotic species to the Ifugao eco-system and; (b) changes in farming practices.
A modern farming practice like the two-cropping system has caused the pingkol its death in the more modern areas of Ifugao. In a two-cropping system, there is no fallow period to speak of, thus, no time nor space for pingkol. The second reason for the pingkol’s retreat is the introduction of alien plants and animal species in the Ifugao biosphere. High-yielding varieties (HYVs) enable the entry of pesticides as it was propagandized that these rice strains needed the application of chemicals to thrive. Naturally, this impacted on the plant and animal life in the rice terraces, exterminating species of fish (e.g. mudfish) and other plant and animal life-support components for the pingkol including the ricefield waterweed and the flating fern.
The other exotic species introduced and so far the most monstrous in wreaking havoc to the pingkol and the IRT in general is the inaptly named golden apple snail (Pomacea Canaliculata). The “golden kuhol” in the Ifugao Tuwali language devours every living thing on its paths including smaller snail species, fish and frog eggs, many insect species, and plant life in the terraces including rice stalks and the components for the pingkol (PRRI 2001). This pest was brought in by enterprising individuals with the knowledge and even active participation of the government (Cagauan & Joshi 2002). They were introduced as “additional protein sources”, not considering the fact that the Ifugaos had already had native pecies of snail and fish which they add up to their diet.
The researcher focused on two barangays-the heritage sites of Brgys. Nagacadan, Kiangan and Maggok, Hungduan. The assumed causes for the retreat of pingkol are valid. In Brgy. Nagacadan, only thirteen (13) farmers are still practicing the art as the golden kuhol, according to the farmer-informants, has eaten what remains of the needed components. The flating fern and the water nymph are rarely found as the kuhol has become endemic in the area. For the remaining pingkol-makers, they observe that vegetables grown in the pingkol are not as robust as they were 10 years ago. Moreover, some farmers are also practicing the two-cropping season leaving no avenue for pingkol-making.
In Maggok, the pingkol practice is more apparent with thirty-three (33) farmers still practicing the art. Kuhol has not totally spread. About half of the terraces are kuhol-free but that means these are endangered.
Pingkol is practiced only in select ponds. Photo: Armand N. Camhol, 2007
The other half in the lower part of the barangays is infested with kuhol, thus, the farmers there make do with the inado, similar to the pingkol but distinct in that the mounds are made outside the rice planting area, especially on terrace walls and stones.
Pingkol-making is strictly female work but for exceptions. In each of the two barangays, there was only one male practicing the art. Most of the farmers interviewed especially in Brgy. Maggok understood its importance as source of organic fertilizer as it is spread back into the terrace beds after the vegetables are harvested.
The pingkol merits preservation as it gives farmers a two-fold benefit-source of healthy, organically-grown vegetables, and as organic fertilizer for the rice terraces. Its near extinction today should be a cause of alarm for farmers and decision-makers alike. As a best practice, it should be protected and nurtured for the incoming generations to experience and enjoy.
The main reasons for the pingkol’s impending extinction are changes in farming methods brought about by modernization and its challenges, and the introduction of alien life species, specifically HYVs and the “golden kuhol” into the Ifugao biosphere.
Drastic measures are needed to arrest and reverse this trend. Policy-makers need to formulate laws and regulations that should be strictly implemented to enable the resuscitation of the practice. Farmers need to understand its importance, apart from being a source of organic vegetables. Suggested initiatives include promotion and marketing of organically-grown vegetables and equitable tourism efforts to heighten the pingkol’s importance while providing farmers additional cash income.
Cagauan, A.G. & Joshi, R.C. Golden Apple Snail Pomacea spp. in the Philippines, Presented at the 7th ICMAM Special Working Group on Golden Apple Snail on 22 October 2002. Retrieved on 3 June 2009 from http://www.applesnail.net.
Conklin, H.C. 1980. Ethnographic Atlas of Ifugao. Yale University Press.
Culhi, L. 1999. Sustainability of the Ifugao Terraces Farming: An Evaluation. The Upland Farm Journal, pp. 18-29.
Barton, R.F. 1922, Ifugao Economics. University of California Publications in American Archeology and Ethnology, vol. 15 # 5, pp. 385-446.
Management Options for the Golden Apple Snail. Philippine Rice Research Institute (PRRI) 2001. Retrieved on 3 June 2009 from http://www.aplesnail.net/pestalert.
Highland Rice Production in the Philippine Cordillera, Central Cordillera Agricultural Programme (CECAP) 2000, pp. 51-53.