Thursday, December 29, 2011

How ancient Chinese farmers had it right all along, and other eco-friendly rice farming methods

by Monica Tan
China is both the world's largest producer and consumer of rice. It's the nation's most important food crop, which is why the method in which it is grown is a question of vital importance: in regards to both human health and the health of the environment. Unfortunately two great threats to the stability of rice growing in China: the over use of chemicals and pesticides and the ever dark, ominous shadow of genetic engineering, impelled Greenpeace to commission five ecological agricultural experts to research better ways to grow rice in China. View the report here (in Chinese).

The Chinese government's funding for research and development of genetically engineered food exceeds that of eco-agriculture by thirty times. It is money that we believe would be better used to research, promote and support sustainable agriculture in China. Take a look at these five examples of simple, eco-friendly methods to grow rice in China that are good for the Earth, and therefore good for China:

Duck rice farming

Rice duck farming

In rice duck farming ducks are raised on rice paddies, and eat pests and weeds. This means the farmer doesn't have to use earth and water-ravaging pesticides and herbicides. The ducks also churn up the water with their feet helping to get more oxygen to the rice plants roots, thus helping the plants to grow stronger and taller. The duck's droppings are also an excellent, natural fertilizer for the rice plants. Rice duck farming is already an Asia-wide success story.

Fish rice farming

Rice fish farming

For over 1,200 years in Southern China farmers have been employing rice fish farming, which sees fish being raised in rice paddies. Recent scientific research from Zhejiang University has shown that the rice fish system requires 68% less pesticide use and 24% less chemical fertilizer use than the monoculture rice system. This method has been designated a "globally important agriculture heritage system" by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO).

Inter-cropping in China

Inter-copping system

The Yunnan inter-copping rice model has shown a reduction in crop disease through the practice of the practice of growing two or more crops in proximity (inter-cropping). This technique is effective at reducing loss from rice blast disease, a particularly destructive fungus that causes damage on panicles and leaves, killing them before rice grains form. This system has proven so popular among farmers that by 2004 it had been adopted on more than 2,000,000 hectares of farmland across China.

Light trap in China

Light trap

A light trap is a device used at night in the rice field to collect and control insects such as leafhoppers, planthoppers and stem borers. This practice has proven effective for over 40% of rice planthoppers and over 30% of rice leaf folder.

Yunnan girl in rice field

Integrated pest management (IPM)

Integrated Pest Management (IPM) is an effective approach to pest management that requires less agrichemical use in the rice field. To achieve this IPM programs use current, comprehensive information on the life cycles of pests and detailed insight into their interaction with the environment. For example, there is an IPM program village in Yunnan province which conducted an integrated approach (including rice ducks, light traps, rice bio-diversity) and resulted in a 30% reduction in pesticide use, and an increase in crop yield by 6%.

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