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Takao Furuno and his “duck rice”

Posted on 07 January 2015.

Takao Furuno is never without his smile and his straw hat.

Except when he is invited to international fairs, which is a frequent occurrence since he proved that organic agriculture could be just as productive as intensive agriculture. And it’s all down to ducks.

Takao Furuno farms a few hectares of paddy fields in the village of Teisen, in the south of the Japanese archipelago. In 1978 after reading Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, a major environmental movement book that denounces the harmful effects of pesticides on the environment, Takao decided to start farming organically. For 10 years life was extremely hard for him and his wife - weeding rice paddies is time consuming and grueling. The problem was how to avoid using chemicals without sacrificing their health and quality of life.

Ducks feed on insects and weeds but don’t like rice plants.

In 1988, Takao Furuno rediscovered a long forgotten ancestral technique. There was a time when ducks used to waddle around the rice paddies. Some say a friend told him about the practice, others that he saw it on some old prints in a history book. At any rate, after some hesitation he began experimenting with the technique in his own rice paddies. Ducklings are released in June and recaptured in September before the harvest. And the results were compelling! The ducks feed on insects but don’t like the rice plants. However, they do like the weeds they dig up by scraping the ground with their webbed feet, which helps to oxygenate the water and so further improves productivity. And their droppings act as an excellent natural fertilizer for the soil!

Takao certainly encountered some difficulties in the early years. The ducks were decimated either by epidemics or packs of wild dogs. But like a modern day Shosuke (in Kamui Den, Sanpei Shirato’s masterpiece set in feudal Japan, Shosuke is a clever servant who dreams of becoming an independent farmer) Takao is both resilient and resourceful. He built an electrified enclosure, gradually improved his "duck rice" system and developed unique expertise. Soon he even introduced fish into his rice paddies, creating real symbiosis between the different animal and plant species.

The farm’s rice yields are 30% higher than on neighboring farms and equivalent to those on farms where rice is grown using fertilizers and pesticides. By the same token, since Takao does not buy anything in he makes significant savings. And in addition he sells a few ducks to diversify his sources of income. His method soon drew the interest of researchers at the University of Kyushu, who asked him to work on a thesis to share his knowledge. It became a best-seller as a book - The Power of Duck was published in 2000. Like Silent Spring, it will encourage a whole generation of farmers to start organic farming.

Takao Furuno now travels the world spreading the word to other rice farmers and is constantly developing new ideas on his little "miracle farm."