2010 AGRICULTURE STORY OF THE YEAR

 

NGO promotes ducks as solution to global warming, rice insufficiency.
By Mach Alberto Fabe
Business Mirror

 

CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY - While the world's leaders are scratching their heads and expensive think tanks wrack their brains trying to find answers to global warming and food security, a nongovernment organization here is propagating a solution that hit these two problems at one go, but has not talked much about its successes.

Instead, the Philippine Agrarian Reform Foundation for National Development (Parfund) Inc. is letting its ducks do all the "quacking."

Through its Rice-Ducks Integrated Farming System (IRDFS), Parfund is slowly spreading the gospel that rural Filipino rice farmers can feed the nation with its staple diet and help save the planet from the effects of global warming.

"The Integrated Rice-Duck Farming System is a proven organic-farming technology that is being propagated by Parfund to improve rice-production performance and ensure rice self-sufficiency in the country," said Jose Noel "Butch" Olano, Parfund executive director.

Olano said the system also eliminates the use of synthetic and chemical-based inputs, thereby eliminating farmers' risk to pesticide poisoning and possible contamination of groundwater.

The IRDFS is a technology developed in Japan by farmer Takao Furuno, who personally mentored Parfund project director Jose Apollo "Poloy" Pacamalan more than a decade ago when the Xavier University Bachelor of Science in Agronomy graduate was still with the Church-based Bukidnon Center for Sustainable Agriculture (BCSA).

From the time he met Furuno, Pacamalan never let go of his "first love" and continued propagating the technology wherever he was assigned by his various employers throughout the years.

Thus, when he joined Parfund in March 2008 right after the Sixth International Rice-Ducks Conference in Cebu City was organized by Parfund in February 2008 through his initiatives, there were already existing patches of IRD farms in Lagonglong, Misamis Oriental; Trento, Agusan del Sur; and Zamboanga del Sur.

But it was only with Parfund that the technology went full blast, with the support of local government executives of various provinces.

Now, almost 1,000 hectares of farmlands in Mindanao are in the pipeline for conversion into full organic-rice farming using the IRDF technology, with Parfund at the helm.
Why ducks?

Among all the birds, ducks are the most intelligent and among the most trainable, claimed Pacamalan.

Pacamalan said that in the rice paddies, ducks serve as pest control, weeders, stimulant and fertilizer. In terms of weed control, he said that ducks (1) directly eat the seeds of the weed thus preventing weeds from growing again; (2) eat the newly-sprouted weeds; and (3) trample over newly-sprouted weeds. In terms of insect management, "ducks are very efficient in insect management. They eat all forms of insects in the rice paddies by chasing them and extending their necks to reach pests that are present in rice stem and leaves," he said.

Worms, bugs, stem borers, green leaf hoppers and golden snails are among the farmers' "enemies" that ducks like to eat.

Although there are some rice paddies that are weed- and insect-free, however, the rice plants are not as healthy as those using the IRDF system. This is because rice plants in these paddies lack the necessary stimulation that ducks provide.

"The paddling movements of the ducks, the shaking effects of their bodies when bumping the rice plant during swimming and the beak touching the stem during insect feeding provide stimulation to the rice, thereby producing healthy and abundant rice-tillers. In principle, the higher the number of tillers the greater the yield," he said.

 

Abundant harvest, low production cost

PARFUND and all its IRDFS implementors all over Mindanao have proven that the system really does provide abundant pure organic and highly nutritious rice harvest at very minimal production cost as it does away with all manual labor in the rice paddies since ducks do the weeding, pest control, fertilization and stimulation.

"Hundreds of ducks released in the ricefield provide direct organic fertilizer application from their manure mixed with the water and soil during swimming and paddling activities. This will provide regular nutrient requirements needed by rice plants to produce higher yield," Pacamalan said.

Felipa Pontillas, a retired employee of the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) in Gingoog City and a pioneer IRDFS practitioner in the city, attested to the effectiveness of using the system, harvesting 5.5 tons of pure organic rice from her one-hectare farm during her second cropping and earning a net profit of P23,000 from the sale of the rice.

Pontillas' bumper crop using the IRDFS is a far cry from the 2.3 tons of harvest using conventional, chemical-laced farming a year ago.

In Lagonglong, Misamis Oriental, a farmer using the IRDF system reported the highest yield so far at 7.3 tons in his one-hectare farm.

In the IRDF system, the ideal ratio of ducks to rice paddy is 150 ducks to every hectare.

But contrary to the traditional rice-duck farming in the Philippines where ducks are herded and released to rice padiess after harvest, before transplanting and after transplanting are removed from the rice paddies to be moved to other newly-harvested rice paddies, the IRDFS integrate ducks into the rice paddies a few days after transplanting the rice.

And to allay fears that that ducks will trample the rice plants, PARFUND Training Officer Jasmin "Pinky" Gamos-Fabe said that like other birds, "ducks can be trained." "Timing is very crucial in this system," she added.

 

Ducks help mitigate global warming

Aside from eliminating the Philippines' need to import rice from Asian neighbors, as proven by the high production yield of every IRDFS farms in Agusan del Sur, Zamboanga del Sur, Bukidnon and Misamis Oriental, the system also effectively mitigates global warming, she said.

Fabe explained that water-logged rice paddies are one of the main culprits in global warming and that it is now high time that Filipino farmers know this and start practicing farming that reduces global warming such as the integrated rice-ducks farming system which is being propagated in the country by PARFUND.

Water-logged rice paddies, according to Fabe, emit methane, which is produced when bacteria decomposes organic matter. Methane is acknowledged as the second most important greenhouse gas produced by human activity after carbon dioxide and is responsible for about a fifth of warming effects. Its chief sources are landfill sites, fossil fuel energy and agriculture, particularly rice and livestock farming.

Reiner Wassmann, a biologist specializing in climate change at the International Rice Research Institute, said that methane is at least 20 times more effective at trapping heat in the earth's atmosphere. He said that methane was responsible for one-fifth of all greenhouse gas emissions. About 10 percent of the methane comes from rice farming, while other sources include the flatulence of cows and decomposing landfill garbage dumps, he added.

Because of this, he said that it is very important that rice farmers in Asia, especially in the Philippines, and the rest of the world did their bit to mitigate climate change.
And PARFUND has the ready answer to Wassmann's suggestion - IRDFS.

A study done by Chinese scientists on rice paddies using the IRDF system in China showed that ducks constant paddling in the rice paddies effectively reduced the emission of methane.

Chinese scientists such as Chengfang Li, Cougi Cao, Jingping Wang, Ming Zhan, Weiling Yuan and Shahrear Ahmad who did a research on the "Nitrous Oxide Emissions from Wetland Rice-Duck Cultivation System in Southern China" found out that integrated rice-ducks farming "will contribute to alleviating global warming."

The Chinese research team evaluated the integrated global warming potentials (GWPs) of a rice-duck cultivation system based on methane (CH4) and N2O emission and they found out that integrated rice-ducks farming "could suppress the total amount of CH4 (methane) and N2O (nitrous oxide) emissions from rice paddies." "Moreover, because the decrease of CH4 emissions from rice-ducks compared to traditional rice farming was far more than the increase of N2O emissions from rice-ducks compared to traditional rice farming, rice-ducks farming greatly reduced integrated GWPs (CH4 + N2O) compared to traditional rice farming. So, the rice-duck cultivation system is an effective strategy for reducing integrated GWPs of the rice-duck cultivation systems based on CH4 and N2O in southern China and will contribute to alleviating global warming," the Chinese research team said in their report.

 

LGUs partnership

Because of the high impact of IRDFS to the production of rice and to global warming mitigation, various local government units are now slowly but surely flooding PARFUND with calls and appointments for the implementation of the system in their localities.

Mayor Leandro Jose H. Catarata of Valencia City, Bukidnon is the latest LGU chief executive to partner with PARFUND in the implementation of the IRDFS, even offering to convert 100 hectares of rice paddies in his city in his first 100 days back in office.

Catarata's initiative came at the heels of the 100 hectares of rice paddies offered for IRDFS implementation in Dumingag, Zamboanga del Sur by Mayor Nacianceno "Jun" Pacalioga Jr. His initiative was born after seeing the effectiveness of the system in producing high-yielding quality organic rice in the demonstration/pioneer farms scattered all over Zamboanga del Sur through the leadership of former governor and now Rep. Aurora "Auring" E. Cerilles, who fast tracked the implementation of the IRDFS to help rice farmers in her province cope up with the rising prices of basic farm inputs. Under Cerilles' "May Bigas Na, May Ulam Pa" program, more than 100 rice paddies are now being converted into pure organic rice farms through the IRDFS. The Zamboanga del Sur LGU also allocated at least P2 million for the project.

But among all the LGUs that took Pacamalan's word seriously and started implementing the IRDFS in their locality even when he was alone in promoting and propagating the system before he joined PARFUND, was former Mayor Irenea Hitgano of Trento, Agusan del Sur. Through Hitgano's initiatives, Trento emerged as the national awardee in the 2008 Search for Outstanding Organic Farming Initiative: LGU Category.

According to Hitgano, implementing the integrated rice-ducks technology in her municipality yielded the following benefits: increase in yield = increase in income; weed control; effective insect pest control; farmers can use spare time for other productive nonfarm activities; health: no exposure to pesticides and schistosomiasis; low production costs; organic rice production; unburden LGU's coffers or even my pockets; complement the ongoing organic rice farming technology; increase in real property tax because of the increased productivity; change of mindset as a local chief executive; from physical development to local agriculture development.

 

What is the IRDF System?

The Integrated Rice-Ducks Farming System is a technology of rice farming that relies on ducks to eat insects and weeds, fertilize and stimulate the rice plants. Known in Japanese as "aigamo method," the IRDFS was developed in 1989 by Takao Furuno, a farmer in Fukuoka Prefecture, which allows for the production of healthy pure organic rice while relying on less human labor. Rice grown using the IRDFS is more resistant to typhoons and other problems, and some farmers who have begun using it have called it a "gift from God." From its beginnings in Japan, it has made its way to rice-growing countries like South Korea, China, Vietnam, the Philippines, Thailand, and even to faraway Iran.

The "aigamo method" for growing rice involves releasing ducklings into a rice paddy about one or two weeks after the seedlings have been planted. Between 150 and 200 ducklings are released into every hectare of rice paddy. Also necessary is a shelter where the ducklings can rest and take refuge from rain. In order to protect them from dogs, cats and other predators, rice paddies are enclosed by a net.

In the IRDFS, ducklings help the rice seedlings grow by eating both insects and weeds that get in the way. The farmer can then grow the rice without using pesticide or herbicide or any chemical that will kick the ducks. He or she is also free from the back-breaking work of bending over to pull weeds by hand. The ducklings' droppings become an important source of natural fertilizer. In addition, they stir up the soil in the rice paddy with their feet and bills, a process that increases the oxygen content of the soil, making it more nutritious for the seedlings. And when it comes time to harvest the rice in the fall, the ducks have grown fat and can be sold for meat. By allowing farmers to grow crops organically and also raise ducks to sell as meat, the IRDFS really does "kill two birds with one stone."

This system is beneficial from a cost standpoint in that farmers will no longer have to purchase expensive chemical fertilizers or pesticides. Farmers also earn extra from the sale of duck meat or eggs or balut.

 

Benefits

As proven by actual and scientific studies, the IRDFS benefits everyone as it addresses climate change, the environment, health and rice self-sufficiency.

For PARFUND, it is highly ironic that the Philippines, with its 1.5 million hectares of rice paddies and where Asian neighbors learned rice production in the 1970s is now importing rice from these former "students" because local rice production, using convention and modern techniques cannot supply the needed amount.

But with the integrated rice-ducks farming system, PARFUND is sure that it will be able to reverse this scenario and at the same time help farmers elevate their economic status and transform them into protectors of the environment.

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