Agriculture is a crucial sector for poverty reduction in the Philippines. Seventy percent of poor Filipinos are in the rural areas where farming and fishing is the primary and often only source of income. Thus, creating a sustainable and competitive agricultural industry is a key focus for the development of agriculture in the country, as this will bring inclusive growth to a large segment of the population.
To create a robust agricultural industry that will sustain plentiful, nutritious and affordable food for the next generations to come, one of the local solutions are ducks. The integrated rice-duck farming system (IRDFS) is about growing rice and ducks together in an irrigated paddy field. The paddling movement of the ducks stimulates the rice plants to produce more grains, while the duck manure fertilizes the soil and eventually eliminates the need for any form of fertilizer.The ducks also eat harmful insects and weeds, including the dreaded golden apple snail (kuhol), which is their favorite snack.
Jose Apollo Pacamalan is the leading expert in IRDFS in the Philippines, having brought home the technology that originates from Japanese organic farmer and social entrepreneur Dr Takao Furuno in 1997. For the past 20 years, Pacamalan has been convincing farmers to trade in their expensive and harmful chemical sprayers for week-old ducklings that will work in their rice fields. Pacamalan represents the Philippines in the International Rice-Duck Farming Network which includes Japan, South Korea, Bangladesh, Vietnam, China, and Bangladesh.
In the last 5 years, based on the experience of more than 1,000 rice-duck farmers in the Philippines, most of whom are in Mindanao, IRDFS has increased rice productivity up to 9 tons per hectare. The average is only 4.2 tons per hectare when using conventional rice farming technology.
IRDFS also reduces the cost of production by 30%. Farmers gain extra income from the sale of duck meat and duck eggs, whether raw or processed into salted egg or balut. What is also interesting is that this farming system has inspired the growth of social enterprises along an integrated rice and duck industry value chain such as rice-duck farms, duck breeder farms, hatcheries, duck meat and egg processing and retail. All of these contribute to rural economic growth that is sustainable and inclusive.
As much as 21% of greenhouse gas emissions worldwide consist of methane gas that is released primarily by flooded rice fields. This is because flooding cuts off the oxygen supply to the soil and accelerates the decomposition of organic matter, releasing methane into the atmosphere.
Studies in China show that ducks in the rice paddies effectively reduce the emission of the greenhouse gas methane, ultimately contributing to the alleviation of global warming. And because IRDFS eliminates the need for chemical fertilizers, synthetic pesticides, and herbicides, the physical and chemical properties of the soil are improved over time.
Integrated rice-duck farming is an innovative, out-of-the-box, local solution that has already been proven effective and needs to be shared with more Filipino farmers and policymakers.