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Stairways of Life -- The terraces of Yunnan

05-17-2010 14:22 BJT

BEIJING, May 17 -- It was late October - a joyous time when many rice farmers were reaping their harvests. Together with a group of farmers from southwest China's Yunnan Province, I went to the southern and southeastern parts of the province to study how the locals grow rice.

(Source: Shanghai Daily)
(Source: Shanghai Daily)

The Xinping Yi and Dai Autonomous County lies in southern Yunnan, around 180 kilometers from the provincial capital of Kunming. The Dai minority people here are able to grow two crops of rice in a year. As the fields are filled with water for such long periods, they provide the perfect environment to practice an age-old method of farming: the raising of fish in paddy fields.

Raising fish in rice fields goes back a long way in China. It is said that farmers along the Nanxi River in Zhejiang Province were already using this technique as early as 1,700 years ago during the Three Kingdoms Period (AD 220 - 280).

A common perception is that this was simply a way for farmers to supplement their income. In fact, this traditional technique was really an ingenious way of farming that eliminates the need for weeding and pesticides.

In the village of Gasa in Xinping County, officials from the local agricultural authority are promoting this eco-friendly method of pest control in a big way.

This technique reduces the need for chemical fertilizers and pesticides, as the fish feed on both weeds and pests, while providing natural fertilizer in the form of fish droppings - a win-win situation for the farmers.

According to Du Hanbin of the Chinese Academy of Fishery Sciences, raising fish in paddy fields has led to a significant reduction in weeds and pests. This has obvious economic benefits for the farmers, who can reduce expenditure on chemical fertilizers and pesticides.

Their crops and fish can be marketed as organic products, which fetch better prices. There are no chemical fertilizers and pesticides that could contaminate water resources and endanger the health of farmers and consumers.

In addition, there is an obvious benefit for the farmers: They can eat the fish to improve their own diet.

In China, these farming techniques are once again getting the recognition they deserve. Another example is the initiative by the Ministry of Agriculture to promote raising ducks in paddies.

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