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Honghe Hani Rice Terraces Culture

Hani Rice Terraces are located in the Honghe Hani and Yi Autonomous Prefecture, which is in the southeast part of Yunnan Province. People of various races, with Hani being the main minority group, has built this spectacular agriculture and nature wonders. The magnificent Hani Terrace System is a masterpiece of the brilliant Hani minorities, who has lived in this remarkable landscape for over 1300 years. The terraces are mainly distributed along the south part of the Honghe Ailao Mountain and spread in four counties: Honghe, Yuanyang, Lvchun, and Jinping, covering an area of about 70,000 ha. Hani Rice Terraces are one of best examples to show farmers’ wisdom in China. The Hani villages are built on the mountainsides, above the village are the flourishing forests and the terraces are just below the villages.

It is amazing that in the Hani Rice Terraces there are no reservoirs but water supply is abundant. The forest, village, terrace and river compose the typical ecological landscape of the Hani Rice Terraces. The Hani People, their indigenous agricultural technologies, their selection of the settlement site and their traditional customs for environment protection and conservation all show a harmonious relationship between human and nature, and their relationship in the human society as well.

Detailed Information

Country and location : P.R. China, Yuanyang County, Honghe County, Lvchun County and Jinping County in Yunnan Province

Project title:  Hani Rice Terraces System  

Proponent/requesting agency: People’s Government of Honghe Prefecture, Yunnan Province, P. R. China

Sites: Honghe Hani and Yi Minority Prefecture

Area of GIAHS: 70,000 ha

Agricultural biodiversity:

48 varieties of local rice such as Hongjiaogu, Shuihongjiaogu, Dabaigu, Maxiangu, Mazhagu, Pizagu, Changmaogu, Shangu, Xianggu, Shuihuangnuo and Damaonuo.

Associated Biodiversity:

A large variety of natural aquatic animals like fish, snail, eel, loach, shrimp, river loach, stone mussels, crab and so on, as well as duckweed, lotus and other aquatic plants. Hani raise ducks and culture a variety of fishes including carp, silver carp, crucian carp, etc in terraced fields and also plant soybeans in the ridges between fields.

Wild woody plants: Handonggua, Xishu, Nansuanzao, Baicangshu, Hongmuhe, Maocihuajiao, Xiangyeshu, Rangjiaomu, Lingmu, Xinmujiangzi, Danbingcha, Wafan, Shancha, Duancikao, Shaluoshu, Keleimu, Duomaidongqing, Bayberry, Golden bamboo, Cherry, Huahuimu, Mutong, Mao chestnut, etc.

Wild fungi and insects: Mushroom, White fungus, Black fungus, White ginseng, green headed fungus, Ganbajun, ect.

Wild herbs: Yunnan baizhu, Maojuecai, Chaotianjue, Zijingzelan, Youcifengweijue, Wanjue, Xiangqing, Jincao, Riceball, Biandaxiuqiu, Baimiu, Tuerlan, Xiatianju, Hanqin, Shuiqin, Yuxingcao, Yemoyu, Huanghuacai, Tumoyu,etc.

Indicator species:

Rice species: red husked rice, rosette rice, hongpi rice, fragrant glutinous rice, hen rice

Plant species: Malachium aquaticum Fries, capsella busta pastoris, cardamine reniformis hayata, verecunda

Ecosystem functions:

The spatial structure of the Hani terrace performs various ecological functions, including soil and water conservation, control of soil erosion, protection of the village safety, maintenance of system stability, the self-purification capacity and others.

Soil and water conservation and restoration: mixed forests on steep lands control soil erosion and reduce risks of landslides and floods; the paddy fields including rice terrace on the slope serve as artificial wetlands to store excessive water and reduce risk of floods.

Climate regulation and greenhouse gases sequestration: The biodiversity powered by solar energy through photosynthesis in the Hani Rice Terrace landscape converts carbon dioxide into bio resources to meet local subsistence needs for energy (firewood), fertilizers (forest litters), food (crops) and fodders (grasslands), providing a subsistence model with little dependence on fossil energy. As the one of traditional management practices, the continuous flooding of rice fields in the Hani rice terraces contributes to emission of methane into the atmosphere.

Ethnicity: Hani and Yi

Socio-economic and cultural characteristics:

Since the Tang Dynasty, the Hani people have been recognised for their skills in developing terraces. The terrace was listed as one of the Seven Farming Systems by Xu Guangqi in his book “Nongzheng Quanshu (Complete Treatise on Agriculture)” during the Ming Dynasty.

The Hani villages are built on the mountainsides, above the villages are the flourishing forests and the terraces are just below the village. The water from the forests runs through an irrigation network to the villages and then to the terraces, and then goes into the river valley.

Hani people try their best to direct all the creeks into their irrigation network, and use Muke or Shike (water allocation tools) to distribute water into a network of irrigation channels and ditches.

The Hani utilize and manage the local water resources in a unique, simple, economical and efficient manner and the water management has provided a guarantee for the sustainable operation of the Hani terraced rice farming system.

The Hani worship of nature ultimately embodies in the worship of the tree. Hani respect trees as gods safeguarding and blessing them. Cutting down trees will bring about retributions. The results of the worship are to make the tree represent the nature and hold a series of religious activities worshiping the tree deity, such as "Village Deity’s Day". Hani people worship trees and nature annually, with a solemn religious ceremony to express their reverence to trees and the nature.

Threats –main factors affecting the conservation of agricultural biodiversity

This region is very susceptible to soil and water loss and landslide and terrace collapse due to the high mountains with steep slopes as well as abundant rainfall. This leads to direct threats to the terrace landscape. Secondly, the terrace is susceptible to drought and water shortage in drought years because of the lack of the reservoirs in the upper regions of the terrace to adapt. Finally, as a result of market motivation and urbanization there is the lack of traditional knowledge transfer from generations and interest from younger generations to carry on the traditional culture. 

Main objectives and activities in the pilot system

improve the overall protection and sustainable use planning, step up publicity and attract more investments, develop eco-tourism, prevent over-exploitation;

benefit farmers through the certification of agricultural products to improve the value of agricultural products

adjust the structure of protected areas to form the core zone, buffer zone, radiation zone which are called “3 protection systems”.

work out a detailed plan of ecological agriculture to mainly protect and develop organic agriculture, establish ecological agriculture demonstration base, and gradually spread to all the Hani terraced areas

raise public conservation awareness upon rice terrace system value and attract local residents to participate in the development and construction of Hani terraced fields.

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