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Strange Things About Japan

Why Are Ducks Swimming in the Paddy Fields?

Last update July 24, 2022


A weed-and-insect cleaning squad cruising after the mission

When strolling in the summer countryside, you may see ducks swishing on the water-brimming paddy field while meticulously pecking into it. Strange. Why are farmers even allowing that? Isn’t there any other place where the birdies can swim? Or the country is too small to give them decent ponds?

So, let me introduce the birds more appropriately. Specifically, they are the species called “Ai Gamo” and a hybrid of a mallard (wild duck) and a domestic duck. And what are they doing? Indeed, they are swimming and picking up food in the water. But the truth is often more profound than how it may look. They are the essential workforce of organic rice farming without using chemicals.

But how does their skating in the paddy fields help? First, by paddling around the area, their feet can uproot and remove weeds, which also can beat and stir the soil, sending oxygen to the roots. Then, by eating, they can eliminate harmful insects within the field. Moreover, even their droppings are helpful, providing nutrients or fertilizers for the plant. So, it’s a Win-Win situation for ducks and farmers, even though the birds are unaware of their role.

Called “Ai Gamo Farming”, the method is not new and established in Asian countries. In Japan, too, it allegedly started during the reign of Toyotomi Hideyoshi, but the practice was only sporadic throughout the nation’s history. Especially after the 1950s, the increased application of artificial fertilizers and pesticides — more efficient and productive — made the procedure almost obsolete. But the time has changed, and people have come to crave more natural, healthier food. That’s why ducks are back in the paddy fields.

So, I would say, “thanks, ducks, for healthy rice. And see you next summer!” But alas, the same individuals don’t come back. Why? Because they’ve grown too big. Only little ones can get this job, and when they become big, they must leave. How come? Ducks are not the only things to grow, and the rice, too, starts to form ears and grains, which can become meals for big ones. So then, where do they go after completing their mission? I hate to say this, but they will be sufficiently fed and eventually placed on your dinner table. It’s a gruesome fact but an unavoidable fate for being in the middle of the food chain. At least, let’s appreciate their sacrifice and bon app├ętit!