Print Edition - 2015-06-23 | Oped
Plant an animal
- Releasing ducks into paddy fields could increase rice productivity and raise farmers’ income
Jun 22, 2015-In the aftermath of the Great Quake and its aftershocks, Nepal is set to face food deficit this year. As per Ministry of Agricultural Development estimates, paddy output will drop by 5.1 percent to 4.78 million tonnes this year owing to the late monsoon and untimely rainfall. At the onset of the rice cultivation season, learnings from a pilot research in Chitwan can serve as an example to millions of farmers across Nepal. An experiment with integrated rice-duck farming resulted in a 13 percent increase in rice productivity and the net income of the farmers increased by 44 percent. By using the same method, in other countries, farmers have been able to increase their productivity by almost two times.
Introduce the ducks
Rice duck is a smallholder farmer-friendly technology. The main principle of this technology is to exploit the symbiotic relationship between ducks and rice for higher productivity. Ducklings are released into rice fields after 15 days of paddy transplantation.
In the rice fields, the ducks act as pest and weed controllers. They feed on insects and weeds and in return, their droppings serve as an organic fertiliser whereas the paddling of ducks works as a stimulant for the growth of rice, resulting into healthy plants.
Meera Darai, Chairperson of Janashakti Dhan Hans Palan Samuha, a group involved in rice-duck farming in Kathar of Chitwan, says that weeding and other intercultural operations done by ducks are better than what humans can do. According to her, a rice-duck field looks greener and fresher than a normal field. She says that the Hongkong and Peking cross breeds seem to be more appropriate for rice-duck fields than the local breed as they grow quickly and have a peculiar sound.
Rice-duck farming cancels out the chemical fertiliser input which is usually imported from India. Similarly, it avoids the cost of controlling pests and outbreak of new pests in the rice field.
Ram Lal Chaudhary, a member of Gunastariya Dhan Hans Palan Samuha, a group in Kumrose Village Development Committee of Chitwan, says that he did not use any chemical fertiliser and pesticides in his paddy field though his neighbour did so three times in a single cultivation period. According to him, unwanted insects like Drosophila and mosquito are eaten by ducks in the evening.
Not new to the region
Rice-duck farming is not new to Nepal and the region. Existing literature shows that Chinese farmers had been releasing ducks in the rice fields since 1000 years ago. Likewise, Japanese farmers grew rice and duck together since 500 years ago until the practice was eliminated due to the mechanisation of agriculture.
However, inspired by Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, a Japanese farmer Takao Furuno developed a simple, ecological rice farming method by introducing ducks in 1989. This method found its way into other rice-growing countries like South Korea, China, Vietnam, the Philippines, Thailand, and even to Iran. Today, thousands of farmers across Asia have taken up this method of integrated rice-duck farming.
In Nepal, according to Krishna Chaudhary, a member of Paribartan Dhan Hans Palan Samuha, another group involved in rice-duck farming in Kathar, Tharus had been grazing ducks in their rice fields since the past but not systematically. For his group the method is very simple, cost effective and environmental friendly.
Good for environment
Another interesting finding by Hiroyuki Morii, an assistant professor and researcher at the University of Occupational and Environmental Health, Japan is that rice-duck farming is more environment-friendly. According to Morii’s experiment, the ducks could control methane released from the rice fields. Methane is one of the major contributors to the greenhouse effect and it is estimated that 12 percent of all the methane released into the environment is from rice fields.
Similarly, a study done by Chinese scientists on rice paddies using integrated rice-duck farming system in China showed that the constant paddling of ducks in the rice fields could suppress the methane and nitrous oxide emissions from rice paddies. Based on their research ‘Nitrous Oxide Emissions from Wetland Rice-Duck Cultivation System in Southern China’, scientists Chengfang Li, Cougi Cao, Jingping Wang, Ming Zhan, Weiling Yuan and Shahrear Ahmad opine that rice-duck farming will contribute to alleviating global warming.
More food, more income
The rice produced from the integrated rice-duck farming method is organic and commands a better market price in cities like Kathmandu. According to National Agricultural Research Council, rice is grown in 1.44 million hectares across the country. However, the productivity is only 2.56 tonnes per hectare. By introducing this method, the farmers would be able to reap the benefits of better productivity which makes it an appropriate technology to address the problem of food insecurity.
Apart from harvesting rice, farmers would also be able to earn more money by selling the ducks at the end of the harvest period. Duck meat also provides nutrition to the farmers and their families. Farmers can practice agriculture in a chemical free environment as no chemical fertilisers and insecticides are used in this method. Hence, the method of integrating ducks in rice fields not only helps farmers economically but also environmentally. And this is what Nepal needs in this post-quake period where agriculture output has been predicted to fall.
Chaudhary is Communications Coordinator and Menila Kharel is Programme Officer—Agriculture, Markets and Food Security Programme at Practical Action South Asia Regional Office
Published: 23-06-2015 08:15