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akao Furuno, a spirited farmer who was influenced by Rachel Carson's "Silent Spring," wanted to make his Kyushu farm all-organic about 25 years ago and since then he has mainly produced quality organic rice. In 2001, he was chosen as one of the 40 outstanding social entrepreneurs in the world by the Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship.
The Schwab Foundation holds the World Economic Forum, also called the Davos conference, which was founded in 1971 and is a global partnership of business, political, intellectual, and other civic leaders that defines and discusses key issues on the world's economic agenda. According to the foundation, social entrepreneurship is a term that captures a unique approach to social problems, an approach that cuts across sectors and disciplines.
Furuno's unique and award-wining approach to social problems is to simply release ducks into rice paddies. With this simple method, he has achieved a higher rice yield with much less labor and financial outlay, while at the same time maintaining environmentally sustainable agriculture. He has perfected and spread this technique since 1988, and today over 75,000 small rice farmers throughout Asia have taken up his method. Rice yields from farmers using Furuno's method are almost twice those of conventional plots in the same area.
Releasing ducks in rice paddies is not a new theory. A journal that was published one thousand years ago in China advocates the use of ducks in rice paddies. Many Japanese farmers released ducks into their paddies in the 1940s, since they had no agricultural machinery at the time. However, the ducks have gradually been phased out as agriculture became increasingly mechanized and reliant on the use of pesticides, thus isolating rice paddies from their natural surroundings. In fact, the "good old Asian environment" where people lived with nature, including trees, rivers, ponds, swamps, and rice paddies, disappeared in the process of Japan's radical industrialization in the 1950s and 1960s. The environment was also good for ducks.
Furuno turned to ducks simply because he decided he no longer wanted to weed his paddies. At the time, he had already been an organic farmer for 10 years. Organic farming is time-consuming work, and he had to work in the paddies from dawn to dusk every day. Weeding, in particular, required long hours. Wondering whether or not organic farming was worth the trouble, he was advised to try ducks.
In order to confirm the effectiveness of the duck method, he and some associates carried out a comparative study with two paddies--one with ducks and the other without ducks. The results of the study clearly indicated that the paddy with ducks provided several advantages in terms of rice production.
The first advantage is that the ducks eat weeds, which means weeds do not need to be removed by hand. The ducks also eat insects, and the ducks' droppings provide nourishment for the growing rice. The fourth advantage is that the ducks, while moving among the plants, are constantly paddling the water and thus prevent too much settling, such as sediments, at the bottom of the paddies. The ducks also eat golden snails, which are a serious threat to rice. And the final advantage is that ducks provide an acceptable level of stress so that the plants can grow stronger and healthier. For ducks, rice paddies are excellent environments because they provide both water and food as well as a hiding place from predators.
A report on Furuno's study was published in a well-known academic journal in Japan and helped promote his theory with an NGO called the Japan Aigamo Duck Association. Later, through experimentation, he discovered that the addition of certain fish (loaches) and a nitrogen-fixing weed (azolla) to paddies boosted rice and duck growth.
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