Earthworms have been blamed as the culprits by Ifugao farmers for the collapse of the rice terraces. Dr. Nestor Baguinon, Retired University of the Philippines Los Baños Professor and Adjunct Faculty of the UP Open University (UPOU) Faculty of Management and Development Studies (FMDS), tackled this issue and sought to answer if earthworms are indeed the “accidental culprits or innocent victims” in the collapse of the Ifugao Rice Terraces.

In his presentation entitled “The Science behind the Relationship of Earthworms and the Collapse of Rice Terraces in Ifugao” at the FMDS Let’s Talk It Over on 17 August 2017, Dr. Baguinon mentioned that residents and local farmers in Ifugao believe that earthworms are alien species, intentionally introduced after the 1990s and are therefore the sole reason for the deterioration of the Ifugao Rice Terraces.

To properly understand the issue, Dr. Baguinon explained the nature of earthworms and their biological characteristics. According to him, earthworms can either be hermaphroditic, meaning they can reproduce asexually or sexually, where two individuals copulate and produce fertilized eggs enclosed in a cocoon. The giant earthworms are pigmented, local to the rice terraces and thrive in moist soil that are not water-logged. The other kind of earthworm, Pontoscolex, are unpigmented, introduced species, and can live in both dry and water-logged rice paddies.

He also explained the beliefs of the locals are mere myths. The earthworms have inhabited Ifugao long before 1990s, but not in the terraces but rather in the muyong -- the communal forests within the vicinity of the rice terraces. Because of the deteriorating forests of Ifugao, earthworms found sanctuary in the rice terraces to survive. He goes no to explain that unlike golden kuhol, earthworms are native to the area, and are not introduced from foreign places. In addition, Ifugao farmers’ shift from traditional to modern farming is another cause of earthworm infestation in the rice paddies, including the use of pesticides since these decimate the predators of the earthworms.

Dr. Baguinon also explained that there are other triggers to the collapse of the rice terraces, especially environmental factors like earthquakes that alter irrigation lines, and climate changes like El Nino and La Nina. He concluded his presentation by saying that this problem about the collapse of the rice terraces is not unsolvable. The Ifugao people can be educated about the natural, environmental and agricultural causes and solutions. They can then take advantage of their knowledge to continue making the Ifugao Rice Terraces productive.

With the webinar streamed through UPOU’s online repository of open educational resources, the UPOU Networks, and Facebook Live, questions and comments were encouraged from the audience. Some of the comments that surfaced was a suggestion to advise Ifugao students to focus on the Ifugao Rice Terraces in their thesis, and to conduct cross-cutting and interdisciplinary studies of different issues relevant to the Ifugao Rice Terrace.

The UPOU FMDS showed appreciation to Dr. Baguinon through a certificate presented by Dr. Consuelo Habito, Program Chair for the UPOU Master of Environment and Natural Resources Management Program. (Anna Cañas-Llamas)