The Japanese farmer and entrepreneur Dr Takao Furuno has developed rice-duck-Azolla-loach cultivation as an integrated biosystem which eliminates the need for fertilizers, herbicides, and pesticides by incorporating duck-raising into organic rice cultivation. His methods are documented in his book “The Power of Duck“.
The approach is now being replicated with substantial success all over south-east Asia as an effective way to boost farmers’ incomes, reduce environmental impact and improve food security.
Takao’s natural biosystem
Takao’s system expands on the traditional farming practices of Japanese rice farmers following Dr Furuno’s own experimentation. The operations simultaneously raise Aigamo ducklings, loaches (a species of fish), rice and Azolla.
The ducklings provide integrated pest management, replacing pesticides and herbicides by naturally controlling predaceous pest populations and digging up or eating competing weeds.
The loach and duck waste, combined with the nitrate fixing properties of Azolla, increase soil nutrition and maintain productivity levels that are comparable to conventional farming operations without the need for costly synthetic fertilizers. The Azolla plants can later be harvested for animal feed.
A normal organic rice farm would require significant human labor to keep weeds down and maintain soil health, but the ducklings’ natural movement aerates the soil and strengthens rice stalks. The reduction of human effort supported by the process allows farmers to diversify their product base to include organic rice, fish, duck meat and eggs, thus reducing their vulnerability to external shocks such as price fluctuations, and potentially creating price premiums from attractive organic food markets.
Dr Furuno rotates the duck-rice system with vegetable crops, allowing him to maintain a highly productive operation on a small plot of land in Japan. This form of rice cultivation neutralizes a significant amount of the greenhouse gas emissions that rice paddies produce.
Income and satisfaction
Takao’s 3.2-hectare farm provides him with an income of US$160,000 a year from producing rice, organic vegetables, eggs and ducklings. Through his writing, travel, lectures and co-operation with agricultural organizations and governments, his methods have spread to more than 75,000 farmers in Japan, Korea, China, Vietnam, the Philippines, Laos, Cambodia, Malaysia, Bangladesh, Iran and Cuba.
His passion for the preservation and health of the small family farm is backed up by a deep understanding of how modern society works:
“My dream,” says Takao, “is to see ducks cheerfully swimming around in all the rice paddies of Japan and other Asian countries”.
The Golden Apple Snail problem
In July 2013, Takao wrote to us to let us know that:
“An increasing problem for me and Integrated Rice Farmers in Japan is the increase in Golden Apple Snails in the rice fields. Their presence there creates difficulty for Azolla to spread effectively over the water’s surface as the snail eats the Azolla.”
According to the website: http://www.fao.org/News/1998/rifili-e.htm
“The golden apple snail was introduced from Florida and Latin America to Taiwan (Province of China) and the Philippines in the early 1980s by private snail farmers hoping to reap big profits exporting snails to Europe. Easy to rear and fast breeding, the snail’s high protein content also apparently made it an ideal supplement to the low-protein diet of the rural poor. Unfortunately, the snails were not a success with consumers, and although they were initially expensive, their market value soon plummeted.
“The escaped and discarded snails quickly spread through waterways and irrigation canals. When they reached the rice fields they found an ideal habitat, feeding by night and at dawn on young succulent plants such as newly transplanted rice crops and weeds. With only a few natural enemies to constrain them, the snails rapidly developed into a serious pest in many areas of cultivated rice land in Asia. Their fast growth and reproduction – females lay egg masses of up to 500 eggs once a week – leads to population levels that can destroy entire rice crops.”
You can view a video of Takao’s methods here.