Ducks hold key to fighting climate change, study

The over 1.5 million ducks available in Kenya could soon become the cheapest way of controlling pests and climate change if success stories of their use in other countries and new research are anything to go by. The humble birds that only waddle and paddle around ponds for scraps of bread are now ridding farms off pests while halving greenhouse gases responsible for the global warming.

In Japan rice farmers have predominantly employed ducks in their rice paddies with impressive results. Majority of the farmers have completely replaced pesticides with ducks cutting down production costs, increasing crop yields and diversifying their livelihood by selling ducks to other local farmers. Farmers using ducks say they are ideal for pest management on farms since they don’t touch the farmer’s crops and their droppings naturally fertilize the soil.

Those already using the birds for pest control say that while there is no specific number of ducks to be used for a certain farm area, it is advisable to use two to four ducks for every 500 to 1,000 square feet of garden. The  Holderread Waterfowl Farm & Preservation Center in  Oregon USA which has also been pushing for the use of ducks in farms however groups various duck types and their ability to forage through the soil grouping them under elite, excellent, good and fair foraging divisions.

Out of the 25 species of ducks available in Kenya 16 species fall under either the elite or excellent foraging division which means they can easily spot worms and insects and clear a large area within a short span.
The news would be music to the ears of thousands of farmers who are now struggling to find an alternative as the Ministry of Agriculture this month banned the use of Dimethoate based pesticide. This was informed by a European Union directive to reject any imports found to contain un-acceptable levels of dimethoate, due to its health risks. Dimethoate is a chemical found in some pesticides, and is a favourite among Kenyan farmers due to its effectiveness in pest control.

A research by a scientist in Xavier University in Philippines, showed that ducks in the rice paddies effectively reduced the emission of the greenhouse gas methane. Methane, which is produced when bacteria decomposes organic matter, is the second most important greenhouse gas after carbon dioxide.

According to studies on global warming, about one quarter of global methane emissions from human activities comes from livestock and the decomposition of animal manure. But Polestico the scientist behind the duck research pointed out that various scientific studies on the effect of the Integrated Rice-Duck Technology have proven that ducks effectively suppressed methane emission from rice paddies because of the ducks constant paddling.

Citing a study on the amount of methanogens in the rice-duck agro-ecosystem done by  another Chinese scientist, the Xavier University scientist stressed that “methane emission is proportional to the amount of methanogens in the soil.”
“This research shows that rice-duck system has suppressed the production of methanagens through breeding duck in paddy field and also achieved the goal of mitigating methane emission from paddy field,” read part of the report.

The news come as agriculturalists in Kenya swung into action on how best to ensure farmers maintain an unitterupted supply of their produce due to their over reliance on the banned pesticide. Already there have been campaigns by various agricultural organizations both private and public to shift farmers from synthetic pesticides to less harmful and cost effective pest control mechanisms.

One such method is using certain parasites and insects on their farms to act as natural enemies to other plant threatening parasites. The farmers’ friend insects either secrete unique fluids that chase away pests, or feed directly and swiftly on the pests. According to many farmers, it takes just a week to rid a farm of pests with natural enemies, as against months when using synthetic pesticides.

“We have picked with a lot of interest the use of duck to control pests in farms since we believe rearing free range ducks in the country has picked up quite fast. Rather than have them scavenging around we would want them placed on farmer farms, feed on the insects like the aphids and mites which are farmers headache while improving the quality of the soil,” says Fanuel Ndambuki an agricultural officer from Kitui in Eastern province.