Use and Management of “Muyong” in Ifugao Province, Northern Luzon Island in the Philippines



  • 03/05/2010

  • REGION :

  • South-Eastern Asia


  • Philippines (Ifugao Province)


  • 380 km north of Manila, the Ifugao landscape is shaped by common forest, privately owned forest (muyong), cultivated land, swidden, rice paddies and terraces, common grasslands, and settlement areas. Rice terraces spread from the bottom of the valley to the upper side of the mountain surface. Near the top of the hilly terrain, muyong and swidden are scattered in a mosaic-like pattern. Richly bio-diverse, this environment is dependent on the interactions of man and nature. There are two types of muyong: ・Uncultivated forest in areas not suitable for wet paddy farming, such as near the top of hilly terrain, have served as a source of useful plants for generations. ・Areas naturally regenerated or reforested after the cessation of slash-and-burn techniques, typically located in areas more easily cultivated. Private ownership is permitted of muyong, although they are usually open for use by kin and, in some cases, peripheral residents; maintenance work such as thinning, pruning and clearing underbrush is performed based on sustainable indigenous customs. Approval is required from the owner whenever logging is undertaken for building or woodcarving material, but it is not necessary for minor usage, such as firewood and fruit. The muyong, spread across the rice terrace slopes and the top of the hilly terrain, serve to reduce surface water runoff, restrict erosion and limit the harmful accumulation of dirt in the rice paddy fields below.


  • Muyong, paddy farming, swidden


  • Dr. Noboru Matsushima is a senior researcher at Japan Wildlife Research Center (JWRC). He is a socio-economist with a keen interest in favourable relationships between human activity and natural resource management in various developing countries. He has been implementing numerous field surveys in rural areas in Southeast Asia, China, the Middle and Near East, Africa, South America and the Pacific Islands, and making helpful suggestions since 1989. Mr. Yasuhiro Tojo is a researcher of Japan Wildlife Research Center (JWRC). His academic specialty is law and politics. Since joining JWRC in 2001, he has been involved in the work on the Japanese National Biodiversity Strategy and others.

  • LINK:

  • Protected Landscapes and Agrobiodiversity Values. Vol. 1. pp. 71-93
    FAO Corporate Document Repository

At the beginning of the 20th century, it was estimated that about 70% of the Philippines was covered by forest, but this ratio has since dropped to less than 20%. Despite the overall decline, the forests have been preserved in relatively good condition in the Cordilleras mountain range of northern Luzon.

Here, the Ifugao people, a minority mountain tribe, have been living and farming rice terraces for generations. The Ifugaos are mountain agricultural people who obtain their livelihood through multiple land use such as rice terrace farming, swidden cultivation and diverse use and management of resources from privately owned secondary forest called “muyong”. Layers and layers of rice terraces spread across the steep v-shaped slopes of the valley, creating a magnificent landscape. It has become a popular tourist attraction in Ifugao and was registered as a World Heritage Site in 1995.

Regional overview

Ifugao, famous for its rice terraces, is located about 380 km north of the capital Manila at the foot of the eastern slope of the Cordilleras mountain range. Research was conducted in six baranggay (an administrative area equivalent to a village), five in Banaue (Poitan, Ivayong, Bagaan, Gohang and View Point) and one in Kiangan (Pindongan). Banaue is a major tourist destination for viewing the rice terraces and has a population of 20,563 in 3,952 households, while Kiangan is the oldest town in Ifugao and has a population of 14,099 in 2,692 households.

Village landscape of farmland in Ifugao

The Ifugao landscape is shaped by common forest (inalah), privately owned forest (muyong), cultivated land for vegetables such as onion and Chinese cabbage, swidden (uma) for production of pulse, sugarcane, sweet potato and others, rice paddy and rice terrace (payo), common grass (magulun) in communal grassland (Imperata cylindrica) , and settlement area (bolele). Rice terraces spread from the bottom of the valley to the upper side of the mountain surface. Near the top of the hilly terrain, muyong and swidden areas are scattered in a mosiac-like pattern.

In Poitan village, inalah ranges from 1,200m to 2,000m above sea level, the higher area covering the tops of the mountains. About 90% of rice terraces are kept water-laden by irrigation (The Pilot Study Team for JBIC, 2000) and the common forest plays an important role as a water source. Muyong spreads in an area below this from 800m to 1,200m above sea level interwoven between rice terraces and settlement area (Hayama 2003: 83). Bagaan village is surrounded by mountains and located at the bottom of a bowl-shaped valley into which small streams flow. Rice terraces spread over the lower part of the valley while forests such as muyong cover the upper side (Picture 1, 2).

Rice terrace and Bagaan settlement

Between them, channels are constructed to supply water to the rice terraces. Cultivated land, swidden, and houses are also dotted between them, in some cases with useful trees such as fruit trees planted around the houses (Figure 2). In this region, the annual precipitation is over 3,000mm. The muyong, spread across the rice terrace slopes and the top of the hilly terrain, serves to reduce surface water runoff, restrict erosion and limit the accumulation of dirt in the rice paddy fields below which is harmful to wet rice farming (Serrano and Cadaweng 2005:104; Hayama 2003: 83).

a) Rice paddy

A wide variety of rice is grown in the rice paddies including the main variety, tinawon, which is resistant to cold and suited to highland cultivation. Double cropping is not possible due to the cool weather, so local people have cleared part of the forest on the steep slope of the mountain and developed a swidden field in which they grow sweet potato in order to maintain food supply. Parts of the rice paddy are also temporarily zoned for cultivation of taro and onion. Stems and leaves of the rice plants are piled in a corner of the terrace and left to ferment. This compost, known as inago, is used in the small vegetable fields (Picture 3).

Table 1 shows that rice paddy is also land from which various wild animals and plants are collected. Edible shellfish and fish are caught there and weeds are gathered from the terrace levee for use as green manure. The azolla fern is especially useful for constructing the mound for growing onions and Chinese cabbages (Picture 4).

Table 1: Wild animals and plants / semi-cultivated plants in and around the rice paddy

b) Privately owned forest (muyong)

The forest is a place to collect and harvest various products such as firewood, materials for housing construction and woodcarving tools, food, medicine and cash crops like fruit. Muyong and swidden are not physically distinguishable but muyong becomes swidden when cleared and swidden becomes muyong when left fallow for a long period of time.

Use and management of muyong

a) Biological resources from muyong

The table (appendix) shows useful plants collected and harvested from muyong. Firewood is routinely obtained from muyong by local inhabitants. Other products collected include edible fruits such as durian, longan and mango, plants whose leaf, stem or root can be eaten or used for medicine, timber for house construction and furniture such as rattan (Calamus manilensis, etc.), bamboo, mahogany (Swietenia mahagoni) and Indian rosewood (Pterocarpus indicus). Betel nut (Areca catechu) and betel(Piper spp.) can be used for various purposes and are frequently collected for use as a seasoning as well as for medicinal or ritual use. Many of these plants are semi-domesticated plants, as they are transplanted to the muyong and nurtured by the local people.

Some villagers cut Taiwanese alnus (Alnus formosana), bahog (scientific name unclear), and bangtinon (scientific name unclear) to use as material for woodcarvings. With the increase in tourists as a result of tourism promotion by the government, demand for woodcarving products is rising. People of Hapuwan, a sub-group of the Ifugao tribe, collect about 20 types of herbs from muyong for use in the rice fields as a traditional insect-repellant (Serrano and Cadaweng 2005: 106). Most of the botanical resources collected from muyong are for local use, however superfluous Benguet Pine (Pinus kesiya var. langbianensis) and Indian rosewood are sometimes sold due to their demand as woodcarving and building materials. Some households plant cash crops such as coffee, lemon grass (Cymbopogon citratus) and citrus ( Citrus spp).

Table 2: Uses for plants grown in woodlots in the Ifugao community, the Philippines (Rondolo, 2001)

b) Development of muyong

There are two types of muyong. One is the uncultivated forest in areas not suitable for wet paddy farming such as near the top of hilly terrain or on a precipitous slope. These areas have served as a source of useful plants for generations. Another type originates through natural regeneration or reforestation after the cessation of slash-and-burn techniques.

There are three methods for developing muyong after slash-and-burn (information obtained from interviews in Gohang village).

1. Promote regeneration of native trees by weeding in forests where many native trees grow. Germinate fruit seeds brought by bird droppings. Accelerate reforestation by repeatedly weeding.

2. Weed and clear only around growing native trees (Anablon, etc.) but not the whole area in order to promote reforestation.

3. Actively transplant trees such as pines and Indian rosewood to create muyong after slash-and-burn. This has become a mainstream approach since the mid 1970′s. Nurseries of Gmelina (Gmelina arborea), Benguet pine and Indian rosewood have been provided by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) and various EU projects and these trees have been widely planted (Picture 5). These seedlings are fast-growing varieties of commercial value with demand as a material for building and woodcarving.

c) Maintenance of muyong

Private ownership is permitted in muyong and maintenance work such as thinning, pruning and clearing underbrush is performed. When cutting firewood, people follow the indigenous custom of cutting only from dying trees, trees with crooked trunks or branches or trees that have stopped growing. After cutting, they clear the underbrush from around the tree in a one-meter radius to promote natural regeneration. When trees are logged for house construction or other purposes, people gather branches and leaves in one place and clear underbrush around the logged tree. This advances the growth of young trees around it and leads to early revegetation. On occasion, new trees are planted as a replacement for the logged tree (Serrano and Cadaweng 2005: 109).

Approval is required from the owner whenever logging is undertaken for building and woodcarving material, but it is not necessary for minor usage such as the collection of firewood and fruit. Muyong is open for use by kin and in some cases for peripheral residents. Rice terraces are also considered to be private land, while in contrast, common forest and swidden are viewed as common land.

d) Resolving conflict over use of muyong

Conflict occurs on occasions when trees are mistakenly cut across borders where the adjacent muyong is owned by siblings. Such conflicts are settled by a village (baranggay) council called “ lupun”. Lupun are comprised of the village mayor who is elected every three years, seven councilors, a clerk appointed by the mayor and a chamberlain. The conflicting parties, such as an illegal logger and owner, are given a hearing and a verdict is made after consultation between the council members.

About this research

This research was conducted through review of published literature and fieldwork by Japan Wildlife Research Center, Noboru Matsushima and Yasuhiro Tojo as part of projects commissioned by the Ministry of Environment.

Fieldwork was carried out from December 4th to 11th 2008 in Banaue and Kiangan in Ifugao Province in the north of Luzon Island in the Philippines with assistance of Ms. Ayumi Sugimoto (a graduate student at

University of Tokyo). Five planted pivillages were chosen from Banaue (Poitan, Ivayong, Bagaan, Gohang and View Point) and one from Kiangan (Pindongan.) Villagers were interviewed about biological resources collected from muyong and their use and management of muyong.


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Hayama, Atsuko. 2003. Relationship between forest and people in Ifugao rice terraces. In Inoue, M. ed., Deforestation and forest conservation in Asia, Chuohoki Publishers.

Nozawa, C., Malingan, M., Plantilla, A., and Ong, J. 2008. Evolving culture, evolving landscapes: The Philippine rice terraces. In Amend T., Brown J., Kothari A., Phillips A. and Stolton S. (eds.) Protected Landscapes and Agrobiodiversity Values. Volume 1 in the series, Protected Landscapes and Seascapes, IUCN & GTZ. Kasparek Verlag, Heidelberg., 71-93.

Rondolo, M.T. 2001. Fellowship Report. Toropical Forest Update. 11(4), 22-23.

Save the Ifugao Terraces Movement (SITMo). 2008. IMPACT: The Effects of Tourism on Culture and the Environment in Asia and the Pacific: Sustainable Tourism and the Preservation of the World Heritage Site of the Ifugao Rice Terraces, Philippines, UNESCO., p. 90.

Serrano, R.C. and Cadaweng, E. A. 2005. The Ifugao Muyong: Sustaining Water, Culture and Life. In Durst, P. B., Brown,C., Tacio, H. D., and and Ishikawa, M. (eds.). Search of Excellence: Exemplary forest management in Asia and the Pacific. Regional Community Forestry Training Center for Asia and the Pacific, FAO, pp. 103-112.

The Pilot Study Team for JBIC. 2000. JBIC Pilot Study on Rural Revitalization Project for the Conservation of the Ifugao Rice Terraces (World Heritage Site), Philippines. Interium Report Ⅱ. Japan Bank for International Cooperation (JBIC).