Terraced fields - driving force for the development of Northern ethnic minority areas

For a long time, terraced fields have become a unique form of farming, creating a tradition rich in the identity of ethnic minorities in many Northern highland provinces.

Not only stabilizing food, in recent years, terraced fields have also become an ideal destination for tourists from all over the world, creating momentum for cultural tourism and community development, increasing livelihoods, improving the quality of people’s lives, and contributing to shortening the socio-economic gap between mountainous and lowland areas.

Terraced fields - motivation for developing Northern ethnic minority areas
Mu Cang Chai terraced fields are closely associated with the lives and customs of the Mong people. (Photo: VNA)

Great architectural work

Terraced fields are a form of farming with unique characteristics of highland residents in Southeast Asia, including ethnic minorities in the mountainous areas of Northern Vietnam. Formed and stretched over hundreds of years, terraced fields are clear evidence of the long-term settlement history and agricultural production labor practices of Vietnam’s ethnic minorities.

Because the area has complex terrain, mostly high mountains with steep slopes, growing rice in terraced fields is an agricultural production activity that holds a position in the economic structure of the Northern ethnic minorities. Given the scarcity of flat land for agricultural production, especially wet rice cultivation, they often choose rock-free land on hillsides with a fairly large area, moderate slope and favorable location to collect rainwater and spring water.

Many ethnic minorities hold terraced farming techniques, especially the La Chi, Dao, Tay, Nung, Co Lao, Phu La, and Ha Nhi. Terraced fields are created from labor, hands, brains, accumulated experience, simple working tools including knives, hoes, shovels, crowbars, and ploughs without help from modern machines.

On the other hand, terraced field farming techniques are also a rare farming method in the world, a manifestation of intellectual products, proving the ability to conquer nature and the attitude of living in harmony with nature of the Northern ethnic minorities. At the same time, the method is a precious asset that proves people’s creative thinking and ability to adapt to climate change.

The terraced fields are narrow in width but still wide enough for plowing, with the distance between adjacent fields of about 1.5m high. The upper fields were bulldozed, while the lower ones were filled with more land.

Unlike the rice fields in the plains, terraced fields in the Northern Highlands are stacked on top of each other layer-by-layer. Viewers feel like they are rising up to the blue sky. During the rainy season, the terraced fields look like a mirror reflecting the blue sky and clouds. When the new rice season comes, they “put on” a green, strangely beautiful coat. And then, when the ripening rice season comes, golden terraced fields on the hillsides create a rich and poetic scenery. Therefore, they are a creative architectural work of art, imbued with the traditional cultural identity of ethnic minorities in the Northern mountainous region, opening up tourism potential for the people here.

Ngày 16/9/2023, tại bản Lìm Mông, xã Cao Phạ, huyện Mù Cang Chải (Yên Bái) đã phối hợp với Công ty Cổ phần Du lịch và thể thao Viên Nam tổ chức Lễ khai mạc Festival dù lượn “Bay trên mùa vàng” năm 2023. (Nguồn: TTXVN)
The 2023 Mu Cang Chai Paragliding Festival took place from September 15-18. (Nguồn: TTXVN)

Tourism economic development linked with cultural preservation

Currently, in our country, there are 3 basic types of rural tourism, including community tourism, eco-tourism, and agricultural tourism. According to the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment, the Northern midlands and mountainous region has more than 215 tourism models, of which the terraced field one is tending to develop strongly in recent years. Terraced fields are closely associated with the culture, lifestyle, as well as agricultural production of the people. Therefore, the Party Committee and local authorities have considered cultural preservation associated with economic development from the fields of ethnic minorities as one of the issues that need attention and focus.

Terraced fields not only bring economic value from harvested agricultural products but are a unique resource that attracts tourists to the northern mountains. Most localities in the northern mountainous region have been focusing on exploiting terraced field tourism in two main seasons of the year: “pouring water season” (also known as white season) around April-May, and “ripening rice season” (also known as the golden season) is around September-October. Terraced field festivals are held in many provinces, in which the paragliding experience flying in the golden season of Mu Cang Chai attracts the tourists’ attention.

Tourist activities are extremely diverse. For example, in Yen Bai, in order to promote the value of terraced fields, since 2015 the province has organized activities to honor the scenic terraced fields in Mu Cang Chai in association with honoring Mong ethnic cultural values, raising awareness of heritage conservation, and attracting tourists. The annual Paragliding Festival event “Flying over the golden season” and "Flying over the pouring water season” has become an attractive tourism product.

Or, recently the 2023 Program “Through terraced field heritage areas” in Hoang Su Phi (Ha Giang province) is an attractive tourist event through admiring the beauty of the ripening rice season in terraced fields along with exploring unique cultural features of ethnic minorities with traditional festivals and rituals, such as: The 3rd district-wide Mong ethnic cultural festival, the Dao ethnic culture festival, and the Dao’s new rice offering ceremony. Along with that is a tour to experience terraced fields and catch field carp in raspberry hills.

Developing terraced field tourism is the basis for the political system and highland people to raise awareness in preserving and promoting cultural values. At the same time, the tourism expansion meets the employment needs of people, increase their livelihoods, and is an opportunity for people to escape poverty and master their lives from the “great architectural works” passed down by predecessors.

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