Sistemas Importantes del Patrimonio Agrícola Mundial (SIPAM)

Hani Rice Terraces, China

GIAHS since 2010
© FAO/Min Qingwen


Detailed Information



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

Area of GIAHS: 70 000 ha

Topological Characteristics: mountainous temperate

Climatic Classification: dry temperate climate

Ethnic Groups/Indigenous People: Hani and Yi

Primary Income Sources: agriculture


Global importance

The magnificent Hani Terrace System is a masterpiece of the brilliant Hani minorities, who has lived in this remarkable landscape for over 1300 years. 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.

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 going into the river valley. Their fertilization methods use the rain to wash manure dug pond or humus from the forest to the terraces.

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. 

Food and livelihood security

Hani terraces allow cultivating many food crops and cereals contributing to the self-consumption of the communities: rice, beans and vegetables, including wild vegetables from paddy fields and upland fields are the main crops. Fish and ducks are also raised or harvested from paddy fields, streams and ponds. Livestock are fed on grasslands.

This system also provides housing, fuel, energy health and related needs: timber and firewood from mixed forests, roof thatch from grasslands, herb medicines from forests as well as other habitats in the Hani Rice Terrace landscapes.

Biodiversity and ecosystem functions

Rice planted in Hani terraced fields is extremely diverse, 48 varieties of local rice are existing nowadays. Moreover, all the cultivated crops and livestock contribute to the agrobiodiversity. The Hani Rice Terrace landscape is home to rich flora and fauna, adapting to and living on various habitats, including woodlands, grasslands, wetlands and farmlands. The forests are also home to insects and birds that pollinate plants and suppress pests.

The forests at the hilltops can facilitate the rising vapor to form dews and accumulate water, and finally forms swags and creeks in the forests. 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.

Knowledge systems and adapted technologies

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 traditional fertilization method is divided into two kinds. The first one consists is digging a communal manure pond in each village, in which oxen and horses livestock manures are accumulated. When it is time for spring ploughing, water will be released from the large pond and various manures will be washed into terraced fields. With the second type, the rain in June will wash dung and humus on the mountain into the ditch and diverted in the terraces.

To ensure that every household has reasonable access to the water, a wood or stone bar is placed at the junction of water diversion to lower ditches. The wood or stone is carved with different sizes of water outlets to divide and allocate certain volume of water flow to lower ditches.

Cultures, value systems and social organization

Hani communities have developed intangible cultural heritages such as the traditional production and life styles, traditional custom and festivals activities, and knowledge systems passed down orally.

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.

Concerning social organization, the operator of water allocation is the ditch leader, whose first job is to dredge ditches and then allocate water and solve dispute over the water use. Since the ditch leader has contributed his labour to the water management, the household whose terraced fields are irrigated by the ditches must pay "ditch rice".

Remarkable landscapes, soil and water management features

The forest, village, terrace and river compose the typical ecological landscape of the Hani Rice Terraces. Shaped for centuries, Hani have been the custodian of this magnificent landscape and its ecosystem.

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. 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. The hydropower is utilized to save labour through building facilities like water grind, water miller and water pestle, etc.