Takao Furuno has developed and disseminated a sustainable, integrated organic
rice and duck farming system. This method significantly increases yields and
has been replicated in thousands of locations across Asia. Rather than using chemicals, Furuno introduces ducks into rice
paddies to fertilize and strengthen rice seedlings and protect them from
pests and weeds. This process boosts farmers' incomes and decreases their
workload, while reducing environmental damage and increasing food security.
In the next three decades, population growth will lead to a 70% increase in
the demand for rice. The Green Revolution, which increased food yields
through intensive monocropping and use of inorganic fertilizers, pesticides
and herbicides, is recognized today as unsustainable and environmentally
unsound. Annual increases in the use of chemical fertilizers now outstrip the
growth of rice yields, causing declining incomes and intensifying rural to
urban migration. Alternative systems are necessary. In the mid 1970s, Takao
Furuno, a high-spirited farmer who had been influenced by Rachel Carson's
Silent Spring, was determined to turn his farm organic. Furuno spent ten
years doing the backbreaking work of pulling out weeds by hand. In 1988, he
came upon a traditional practice of using aigamo ducks to protect rice. The
ducks eat insects, pests and snails. They also use their feet to dig up
weeds, in the process oxygenating the water and strengthening the roots of
rice plants. Furuno lovingly calls this method the "duck effect"
and his farm yields have soared.
Furuno's duck-rice system is the result of continuous study of a natural
symbiotic relationship after years of trial and error adjustments. One
season, disease destroyed his entire crop. For three years, dogs ate Furuno's
ducks until he got the idea to install electric fences. Furuno has identified
the optimal age at which ducklings should be released into rice fields, the
number that should be introduced per tenth of hectare and the moment when
ducks should be removed. Through experimentation, he discovered that the
addition of certain fish (loaches) and a nitrogen-fixing weed (azolla) to the
field boosted rice and duck growth. In addition, Furuno has successfully marketed
duck rice, which now sells at a 20-30% premium over conventionally grown rice
in Japan and other countries. Today, his 3.2-hectare farm gives him an income
of US$ 160,000 a year from producing rice, organic vegetables, eggs and
ducklings. After demonstrating that small-scale organic farming can be highly
productive, he is disseminating his ideas. He has authored best-selling books
on his methods, such as The Power of Duck (Tagari publications, ISBN 0 908228 12 0), as well as an aigamo duck cookbook (Nobunkyo publisher, ISBN 4 540 98395 4). Through his writing, travel, lectures and cooperation 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.
The image of an Asian rice farmer is probably one of a taciturn man in a
straw hat with whom it is difficult to converse about anything except his
local area. In contrast, you will find Takao Furuno quite a surprise. 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 Furuno, "is to see ducks cheerfully swimming around in all the rice
paddies of Japan and other Asian countries.