The Ulikan Red rice is an heirloom variety cultivated by women farmers in the elevated rice terraces, 500 to 2,000 metres above sea level, of the Pasil River Valley, Kalinga, Cordillera Philippines.
The Pasil Municipality is one of the seven in the landlocked province of Kalinga. Pasil is located to the west of Tabuk, the capital of Kalinga, situated in the Cordillera Administration Region of Luzon, that borders Mountain Province to the south, Abra to the west, Isabela to the east, Cagayan to the northeast, and Apayao to the north.
Due to its versatility and adaptability, the Ulikan red rice has become a popular source of food for the people of the Pasil Barangay (a filipino name for villages), that is strongly linked to the local culture, with the rice being often given as a gift to newlyweds as a sign of prosperity and food security.
The importance of Ulikan red rice has been passed orally from generation to generation. One legend states that when the great leader Likan of the Taguibong tribes went missing after a hunt, this rice variety grew from his remains. The Taguibong tribe brought the seeds home and planted them in remembrance of their leader. It was said that the color red was a sign from Likan that he was happy that his descendants had honored him. The name “ulikan” means that Likan will live on, as long as the rice does.
Traditional rituals are practised by the elders during the different phases of cultivation. For example, during the sowing, the elder farmers will undertake a sissiwa (or ritual), by placing knotted weeds in the dike corner to prevent pests from eating the seeds. While another ritual is practised during transplanting so that the rice planted will grow robustly and for a healthy rice crop while another ritual for a good harvest.
The indigenous traditional farming practices start with the preparation of seedbed and laying out of panicles on the seedbed. Meanwhile, farmers start preparing the field, with a first plowing and then a second plowing after a couple of weeks and after the dikes have been repaired and plastered.
Harvesting is done by hand, by picking the panicles and then tying them up in bundles. Drying is mostly done by hanging the bundles on a bamboo dryer. Once dried, sets of six bundle are made; these are called iting (a pair of iting is a lakom, and 10 iting make a charan). The rice is then stored in the granary (arang) to continue drying for a minimum of 1 week before processing. For household consumption, rice is milled manually with a mortar and pestle.
This red rice variety is planted mixed with other traditional varieties that is grown both for personal consumption and sale on the market and represents an important source of income for growers in these remote villages.
The Ulikan red rice growers are organised into a federation of rice farmers associations that include the following:
When a farmer from these associations wants to sell some rice, the “consolidator” or the buyer that is employed by the Pasil Municipality, buys the Ulikan rice directly from the farmer and ensures the quality, uniformity and guaranties of the rice prior to the processing.
Once the consolidator has completed the quality assurance controls, the rice is then passed to the processor, the Kalinga Heirloom Product (KHP) for the milling, packaging, labelling and distribution, dependent upon the buyers request. The product is packaged in the name of Kalinga Heirloom Product.
Ulikan Red Rice of Pasil was launched as a Mountain Partnership Product in 2019 at WOFEX Manila.
The Mountain Partnership Products (MPP) initiative strengthens the resilience of mountain peoples, their economies and their ecosystems.
It is a certification and labelling scheme based on environmentally and ethically sound value chain approaches, which promotes short, domestic value chains while ensuring transparency and trust between producers and consumers, fair compensation for the primary producers, conservation of agrobiodiversity and preservation of ancient techniques. You can read more information here.
Moreover, the Food and Tourism for Mountain Development in the Cordillera pilot project was developed by the Mountain Partnership Secretariat, Slow Food and the Department of Tourism in the Philippines.
The project is to connect small scale producers with tourism service providers, help promote high-quality mountain products from the Cordillera region and allow visitors to discover and support the unique biodiversity and culture from this region.
So it is possible to safeguard indigenous foods whilst boosting the local economy, promoting climate resilient agriculture and generating more income for Cordillera’s mountain communities.
As a part of the pilot project product value chain and production training activities, workshops and events were organised to promote local mountain economies and improve value chains of the products.