Holding Mother Nature in reverence, the Hani people in southwest China have been leveraging their water-saving wisdom on the unique wonder of terraced fields for over 1,300 years.
The terraced fields in Yuanyang County of Yunnan Province were included in the UNESCO World Heritage List in 2013.
The local Hani, an ethnic group that mostly inhabits the area across the Ailao Mountains, has not only created the agricultural heritage but forged a special bond with an irreplaceable source of life -- water.
The Hani people invented a simple but useful system to distribute valuable water resources.
After directing water from the forested hilltop through a channel, the villagers, led by respected seniors, would negotiate on the shares of water for each household. Then they put wooden bars with different grooves on the outlets of the channel. The wider the grooves, the larger flow of water, and vice versa.
"A 4-cm-wide flow of water can irrigate 2 hectares of paddy fields," said Pu Xuechang, a villager of the county's Yakou Village.
Pu added that the bars would be replaced every 10 years considering water erosion. A supervisor is also elected by the villagers to maintain the water distribution system.
Li Jinliang was voted in to be the supervisor of the village. He patrols the fields every day to protect the channel from damage and ensure the stable flow of water.
"The flow of water must run all year round, otherwise the ridges at the rice fields would easily collapse due to water shortage," Li said.
Li added the Hani people only use pig or cow manure as opposed to chemical fertilizer to protect the soil. They also channel the manure to the fields through the water distribution system to save labor.
More than 90 percent of the water in the county comes from the provincial nature reserve of Guanyinshan, said Bai Jinyin, director of the reserve's conservation bureau.
Bai added that the water resources in the reserve have been well protected, with the river water volume increasing by 20 percent compared with that in 2014.
"The Hani people can't live without water. The traditional Hani culture attaches great importance to water conservation," Pu said. "Only by protecting water can we preserve everything."