Traditional farming in China

In China's epic 7,000 year history of rice farming, all but the last 30 has been what we would call "totally organic." Unfortunately 30 years is enough to derail a very fine and long love affair, with two developments popping up to threaten the stability of rice growing in China: the over use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides and the ever ominous shadow of uncontrolled genetic engineering. With China the largest consumer and producer of chemical pesticides, we commissioned 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 currently exceeds that of eco-agriculture by thirty times. Money that could have been used to research, promote and support sustainable agriculture in China. For example, enhancing existing programs that are already uncovering the astounding creativity and resourefulness of farmers of the past, while testing innovative new eco-technologies of the future.

Take a look at these five examples of simple, chemical-free 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 feed on pests and weeds. Which means the farmer doesn't have to use earth and water-ravaging chemical pesticides and herbicides on their plants. The ducks also churn up the water with their feet helping to get more oxygen to the rice plants roots, thereby boosting growth. Duck droppings are also an excellent, natural fertilizer for rice plants. Rice duck farming is already an Asia-wide success story.

Fish rice farming

Rice fish farming

For over 1,200 years farmers in Southern China have been employing rice fish farming. Recent scientific research from Zhejiang University has shown that paddies which simultaneously raise fish require 68% less chemical pesticide use and 24% less chemical fertilizer use than the monoculture rice system. Like ducks, the fish feed on pests and weeds. 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-cropping system

Growing two or more crops in proximity helps reduce disease outbreaks. The technique is particularly effective at reducing loss from rice blast disease, a 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 million hectares of farmland across China.

Light trap in China

Light trap

Light traps are simple but effective devices used at night in the rice field. When switched on the light lures in insects such as leafhoppers, planthoppers and stem borers. The 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

Integrated Pest Management (IPM) is a new (and fancy sounding) way to do what farmers have been doing for generations: combining local knowledge. For example an IPM program might take current, comprehensive information on the life cycles of pests, along with detailed insight into their interaction with the environment, then work out an appropriate way to manage them. It's like farming with a fine scalpel, as opposed to the blunt-force axe that is chemical pesticides.

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%.