Terrace Farming

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terrace farming

People are always looking for ways to adapt and survive with the changing climatic conditions and to fulfill their food demands. Terrace farming is a common way of growing crops in hills and mountains sloping land

In most of these farming techniques, rice is cultivated on hills and mountains as it avoids loos of nutritious soil that is important for its cultivation.

Terraced fields are the most commonly found in China, Japan, the Philippines, and areas of Southeast Asia, the Mediterranean, and parts of Africa.

What is a Terrace?

A terrace is a piece of sloped plane that is cut into a series of receding flat surfaces or platforms which resemble steps.

The main purpose of this type is effective farming. This type of landscaping is therefore termed terracing.

On hilly or mountainous terrain, farmers use these steps to farm different crops.

The major advantage of using these types of farms is that it decreases both erosion and surface runoff.

Farmers often use this farming for growing crops that require irrigation water like rice.

Lets us discuss erosion and surface runoff.


Erosion is an act of surface process that removes soil, rock, or dissolved material from the surface of the earth. And it transports it to another location.


Agents of erosion are rainfall, bedrock wear in rivers, coastal erosion by river and waves, abrasion, groundwater processes, and mass movement in steep landscapes.


As a result of erosion, the land becomes dryer and eroded.

While erosion is a natural process, human activities have increased it by 10-40 times the rate at which it occurs globally.

Intensive farming, deforestation, roads, climate change, and urban sprawl are the most significant human activities which have caused erosion.

Surface Runoff

It is the flow of water occurring on the ground surface due to excess rainwater, stormwater, meltwater, or other sources.

This occurs when the already saturated soil with water and additionally rain arrives more quickly.

surface runoff

This additional water does not soak into the soil and the mineral and nutrients wash away with the flowing water.

This causes soil erosion. Moreover, it causes urban and street flooding.

Due to these reasons, many farmers are reverting to hilly or mountainous areas for farming.

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How it Started?

Let’s date back to ancient history where harvests come and go, villages and cities are created and expanded and deserted.

Paths and then road links were created were communities where it expanded to full scale. Around 2000BC, due to the cultivation practices of humans, the land soil began to deplete.

Towards the rivers and sea, swamps begin to form that contains sediments, rendering the land inhospitable due to mosquito-borne plaque.

The sun scorches the land making it difficult to retain water and the fields are unable to grow in such land. Thereby decreasing the yield of the crops.

terrace farming 1

The people of the Inca were the first ones to start this farming.

Historians are of the view that they build terraces on the slopes of the mountains and cultivate potatoes, corn, quinoa, and further to make cereal, flour, and soups.

Inca people were great farmers that allowed the production of a diverse range of crops from the arid coast, the high, cold mountains, and the hot, humid jungle regions.

With human advancements, they start developing rocky and winding traces. Terraces are built from piled rocks, are uneven, narrow, and irregular shaped following the relief of the mountain.

Each field contains a different crop variety allowing the local population to prosper.


Terrace Farming Today

Moving forward to this date, terraced fields has been a part of agricultural traditions around the world.

Along with the Mediterranean Basin, significant historical examples are found in Asia, Africa, and South Africa.

This type of farming over the centuries has proved to be an effective method of farming against water-based erosion.

However, they also offer much more than just being soil and water retainers.

It provides greater soil depth than the natural environment. Therefore, providing additional moisture

As a result, a large number of different crops are grown that can not flourish on shallow soil layers.

It also has the ability to retain water as per crop requirements. Potentially, farmers can alter the drain rate in case of the crop rotation policy.

For the crops to receive more sunlight exposure and air drainage for specific crops, farmers use this type of farming.

Moreover, with technological advancements in agriculture, scientists are now developing various types of farming. These are:

Why Regular Farming Does not Work on Hills?

This type of farming fails on steep slopes because it creates erosion and landslides other than conventional farming that involves removing trees and plants to replace crops.

Without trees and other vegetation, rainstorms cause significant erosion on land. The water faces less resistance as it rundowns the hill, so it runs faster.

As a result, it carries vital nutrients and productive soil downhill away from the farmland.

Additionally, a de-vegetate slope is more prone to mudslides if it becomes waterlogged from excessive rain.

A mudslide can ruin the crop and make the land much harder to farm in the future.


How Is It Done?

Terraces are built on steps by moving soil and creating a retaining wall on the slope. The restructuring allows un-farmable hillsides to become stable and productive farmlands.

Farmers use this type of farming for growing barley, wheat, potatoes, corn, tea, grapevines, coffee, and rice.

A terrace is typically about 2-3 meters wide and 50-80 meters long. Some terraces flood with rainwater. For instance: Rice

It usually has a water outlet to drain into the terrace below. This terrace, however, stops the water and prevents it from gaining enough speed to cause erosion.

As a result, the water deposits any soil in the downhill terrace as it slows down.


Types of terrace farming can vary. For instance, they can be steep, cross channeled, or braided, they can have a narrow or a broad base, be parallel or perpendicular, and present at different gradients and outlets.

They also vary from one country to another, from one region to another of the same country. Moreover, making a terrace infrastructure is a time-consuming process and climate effects are even further.

terrace farming 3

For instance, in Iraq, without irrigation from natural springs, terracing, for now, is only economically viable in high precipitation areas with seasonal rainfall.

However, in lower precipitation zones, terracing will be worthwhile in higher declivity areas.


It is an important type of farming that farmers around the world use to raise grain yield, prevent soil erosion, preserve soil fertility, and maintain long-term stable production of the crops.

Three Types of Terrae Around the World

Here are three types of terrace farming:

  1. Bench terraced farmlands
  2. Slopping terrace farmlands
  3. Combination level terraced farmlands and natural slope land.

Let us discuss these types one by one.

Bench Terraced Farmlands

This is the basic type of farmland in the mountains. With its level platform and projections, it holds rainwater for irrigation.

Farmers need to provide proper drainage for irrigation in this type of farmland.

terrace farming 2

 Slopping Terrace Farmlands

Riser dikes are built and farmers do not level the land for farming. By plouging over the years, it gradually gets flattered.

With the natural slope, the spacing between riser dikes varies.

The slopping terrace is less effective as compared to bench terracing in both water and soil conservation. It is more adaptable in regions where per capita land availability is high.

Combination Level Terraced Farmlands

It refers to the flattening of farmlands so that rain or irrigation water is evenly distributed over the field and water runoff is minimized.



Terrace farming prevents the washing away of soil nutrients that eventually lead to the healthy growth of crops.

It prevents the carrying away of plants by the heavy flowing rivers. Moreover, it helps in the reduction of soil erosion and water loss.

Terrace farming in hilly and sloppy land has made the land more productive.

It allows the people living in mountainous areas to grow water-intensive crops such as rice.

Rice Terraced farming can be commonly seen in China. These rice are high in quality and Enrich in nutrients.

In these terraced farms, they slow the flow of water, which otherwise causes soil erosion.

Moreover, it also serves as flood control giving the water a chance to infiltrate rather than run off which is beneficial for rice growing.

Furthermore, terrace farming is a good option when we as a whole are facing Water Scarcity.

Around the World

It is the practice of cutting flat land areas out of hilly or mountainous landscapes in order to grow crops.

This is a practice that has been in use from the rice fields in Asia to the steep slopes in the Andes in South America.

Here is a look at terrace farming from around the world.


The most well-known use of terrace farming can be seen in the rice paddies of Asia. As rice needs a lot of water, and a flat area, it needs flooding.

A big area for such crop is hard to find therefore, a smarter way is to use this farming.

in asia

This helps to prevent erosion and soil runoff. if you take care of the hillside, it remains productive, by using this type of farming.

With the help of this farming, farmers are now able to grow rice, wheat, and barley in East and South East Asia.  It plays a key role in the agricultural system of these countries.

The Cultural Landscape of Honghe Hani Rice Terraces, China covers 16,603-hectares in Southern Yunnan which is also a UNESCO world heritage site.

To fight various difficulties of the environment of high mountains, narrow valleys, crisscrossed by ravines, high rainfall, and sub-tropical valley climate.

The Hani people have created a system of irrigated rice terraces that flows around the contours of the mountains.

The Mediterranean

The areas use this type of farming for growing vineyards and orchards of olive and cork.

People transform the terrace areas into productive agricultural land for some of their favorite foods that farmers can grow easily in this region.

The Mediterranean

The Lavaux region in Switzerland also uses terrace farming for vineyards that line to the north of Lake Geneva. This terrace dates back to the 11 century.


South America

To feed populations, people have been using terrace farming to feed the people.

In the South American Andes, farmers have used terraces for thousands of years to farm potatoes, maize, and other native crops.

These make the most efficient use of shallow soil and enable irrigation of crops by allowing runoff to occur through the outlet.

Machu Picchu and the surrounding region provide evidence of how these people mastered this agricultural practice.

Today, many farmers in the region are reverting to terrace farms and their practices to raise most food with the least water.

Moreover, tea farmers also take advantage of terrace farming. These crops present a beautiful scene and are the most sought-after tourist destinations.

As recently as 2013, researchers found that this farming was used in the deserts of Petra for as long as 2,000 years ago.

The farmers grew wheat, grapes, and olives which resulted in a vast green agricultural suburb in Petra which was rater inhospitable, and arid.

Canary Islands

Terraced fields are common in islands that have steep slopes.

The Canary Islands present a complex system of terraces covering landscapes from the coastal irrigated plantations to the dry fields.

canary islands

Agricultural resources like tomatoes, potatoes, onions, cochineal, sugarcane, grapes, vines, dates, oranges, lemons, figs, wheat, barley, maize, apricots, peaches, and almonds are grown in these lands.

Philippine Cordilleras

These are a part of UNESCO world heritage site that has different types of rice terraces.

Cordillera Rice Terraces Officially On the UNESCO World Heritage List

  • Batad Rice Terraces (in Banaue, Ifugao)
  • Bangaan Rice Terraces (in Banaue, Ifugao)
  • Mayoyao Rice Terraces (in Mayoyao, Ifugao)
  • Hungduan Rice Terraces (in Hungduan, Ifugao)
  • Nagacadan Rice Terraces (in Kiangan, Ifugao)

The Takeaway

It is an important agricultural method that has made farming in mountainous parts of the world possible. It turns the most idle land into productive ones leading to high food security in the world.

Terrace farming is an ancient farming technique and one we are continually finding new evidence of long-gone civilizations.

The practice of this farming technique makes sure that there are less soil erosion and surface runoff. In most systems, a terrace is a low, flat ridge of earth built across the slope with a channel for runoff water just above the ridge.

Farmers use the level terraces in areas where the soil is able to take in water readily and rainfall is relatively low.

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