The Working Duck: Integrated Rice-Duck Agriculture


Agriculture and farming are the backbone of the food supply chain and an important sector in all countries. As the world’s population keeps growing, the demand for food increases, and many farmers look to certain practices in order to increase their yield to meet demand. This has led to a widespread use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides; even though these may help increase yield and better protect crops, they can have detrimental effects on people and the environment. That is why organic produce is becoming more and more popular, because people want to be sure that the food they are ingesting is not harmful to them and does not impact the environment negatively.

Chemical pesticides and fertilizers were not always the norm as they are today. Farmers used to have other more environmentally friendly methods to protect their crops against pests and also ensure that the soil is well taken care off. However, with the changes brought by climate change, such as rising temperatures, droughts, or excessive rainfall, many farmers are faced with newer challenges, such as new kinds of pests that can invade and destroy their crop. Many used to turn to quick fixes, such as the use of chemicals; however, as more are becoming aware of their negative effects, some are revisiting tried and tested methods that were used in pre-modern times. They are, in a sense, unearthing forgotten knowledge and methods that their predecessors used to apply.

Rice, a staple food for many around the world, is an important crop that many farmers grow. However, it requires a lot of work and care to ensure a healthy crop harvest. Some farmers are shying away from their overreliance on chemicals in farming and instead turning to old farming methods; one being integrated rice-duck farming. This method dates back to 600 years ago, and was documented to be used in China, where farmers would allow ducks into irrigated paddy rice fields to help in the farming process.

In a study published in 2013, in the Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture, entitled “Mechanism and capacities of reducing ecological cost through rice–duck cultivation”, the researchers studied the effects of integrated rice-duck farming and came to the conclusion that “[c]ompared to conventional rice cultivation, rice–duck cultivation shows great benefits to ecologic cost and economic income”. From studying this model of farming, they found that the ducks play various roles; they weed out unwanted plants, eat pests that are harmful to rice plants, and as they waddle through the paddy fields, they flatten the field to prepare it for planting the crop, and their droppings act as natural fertilizer. The ducks themselves are also provided with natural food, which increases the quality of their meat, and the duck farmers have to spend less money on their fodder. All in all, this method seems like a winning one; “rice–duck cultivation can boost the growth of rice, improve soil properties, prevent plant diseases and pests, [and] lessen the emission of methane”.

Originating in China, this method of rice cultivation is being used across Asia and is gaining more popularity. The use of ducks to help in pest control on farms is also being applied in South Africa, France, and Iran. In the video below you can see an army of ducks going to work in rice fields in Thailand.

You can also see the ducks go to work in a vineyard in South Africa here:

Watching the videos, it seems quite apparent that everyone benefits from this model at nobody else’s expense. More such holistic methods need to be implemented in order to offset the damage that has already been done to the environment, and encourage a greener future. It, thus, seems that the past has many lessons to offer, and in some cases it holds the solutions to modern day problems.

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