How thousand year old rice-fish-duck agro-ecosystem benefits villagers in Guizhou, China

The rice-fish-duck agro-ecosystem is a unique agricultural system that allows rice, fish and ducks to grow together in the terraced fields. Dong’s Rice Fish Duck System, China.

This thousand year old agro-ecosystem is recognized by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) as an the outstanding representative of Chinese traditional alpine agriculture, and is listed by the FAO as a Designated Site of Globally Important Agricultural Heritage, which dates back to Eastern Han Dynasty.

Throughout thousands of years, this farming practice has been handed down by Dong people of Southwest Guizhou. This agro-ecosystem is an evolving result from co-evolution of human culture and natural environment, and it has been developed as an extraordinary living model of sustainable use of water and soil resources.

Xinhua’s Wu Si takes you to Jiabang, China’s Guizhou to find out how the thousand-year-old ecosystem works and benefits villagers.

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Source: New China TV, 5 May 2022.

Dong’s Rice Fish Duck System, China

Location:  Congjiang and Liping County, Guizhou Province, People’s Republic of China

Source: Globally Important Agricultural Heritage Systems (GIAHS),
United Nations Food & Agriculture Organization.

Global information

As one of the outstanding representatives of Chinese traditional alpine agriculture, Rice-Fish-Duck Agro-ecosystem can date back to Eastern Han Dynasty. Within thousands of years, this farming practice has been handed down by Dong people of Southwest Guizhou. This agro-ecosystem is an evolving result from co-evolution of human culture and natural environment, and it has been developed as an extraordinary living model of sustainable use of water and soil resources.

Dong people in Southwest of Guizhou used to cultivating rice and simultaneously stocking fish and duck, which in nature is a kind of wisdom condensed by countless agricultural practice. However, due to the influence of modern economic and societal change, traditional values gradually fade away, the excellent agricultural traditional culture confronted with threats and challenges from many aspects.

Food and livelihood security

Rice paddies are the main source of food of Dong community. Not only producing rice, more than 200 kinds of wild plants are widely used for food in Dong area. Edible wild herbs rank the top in Dong diet and exceed 100 kinds, among which, fern, bamboo shoot, and fungus. In addition, aquatic animals such as snail, eel, loach, aquatic plants like taro, lotus root, water celery and plantain which grow in paddy field, can also be made food on the table. With little contamination of chemical fertilizers, pesticides and pollution, glutinous rice ensures food safety and human health, which is of particular significance in term of local residents who haven’t yet shaken off poverty.

Moreover, communities are used to rely on the rich forest biodiversity too. By end-use points, seven sorts of plants can be divided: 122 medicinal plants, 105 food plants, 23 forage plants, 17 building material plants, 9 dye plants, 7 paper making plants, 6 knit material, which respectively provide food, medicine, timber, textile material for the local people.

Biodiversity and ecosystem functions

The traditional Dong’s Rice-Fish-Duck Agroecosystem has a variety of species, there are more than 100 species live together in one paddy field. First of all, Xianghe glutinous rice has not less than 40 types of rice. With regards to other species, fish stocked in paddy field, mainly is carp, and then is crucian carp, grass carp etc. Most of ducks bred in paddy field are local breeds. Within the same field, there are some wild hydrophytes and plant species, such as spiral Shell, clams, shrimp, crab, breeds of plant such as cane shoots, lotus root, water pack, oenanthe stolonifera, etc.

There are obvious regional disparities and transitions in geographical features, soil, vegetation, and climate of Southwest Guizhou, which developed diverse kinds of environment provided for the growth of various types of biodiversity. Besides, forest’s role in climate regulation and carbon sequestration is widely recognized. The covering of forestry of Congjiang County is 67%, and Liping County is much higher. Due to the forests around the paddy field, water supply for rice growing is sufficient.

Knowledge systems and adapted technologies

The approach used in the Rice-Fish-Duck system effectively saves land resources and achieves a natural three-dimensional agriculture. Rice, fishes and ducks are grown up in the same paddies. The sequences of techniques are organized as followed: seven to ten days after planting, 12 to 15 ducklings are stocked to one-mu field. Ducks can’t be stocked until fish is 5cm long. For at that time, the fish fry has been big enough to avoid being swallowed by duck.

This system provides several benefits thanks to many adapted practices: set aside rice seed after harvest, store separately and ensure pathogen-free, timely eradicate diseased plant to prevent further infection, increase temperature by film mulching to kill pathogens in the soil, decreased planting density and enhance capacity of air and light, apply organic fertilizers, such as human waste, livestock manure, straw manure, compost, biogas slurry residue, green manure and the use of crop rotations.

Cultures, value systems and social organizations

Dong’s culture is huge and linked to agriculture. Dong’s multiple-voice folk song is also called Big Song. There is a close relationship between Dong’ Big Song and Xianghe glutinous rice in Dong area where “ eat Xianghe glutinous rice and sing Big Song” has been a traditional folk for hundreds of years. Festivals and customs in traditional area aim at adapting for need of daily life. Festivals and customs in relation to farming in Dong minority of Southeast Guizhou Province are divided into three groups: farming, social intercourse, and sacrifice.

Kuan is an alliance consisting of villages in Dong area. Kuanyue is equal to the law of Kuan association. Every village have their own regulation. The restricting scope of Kuanyue covers the following aspects: agricultural production, resources management, societal safety, and punishment for criminals. Dong people used to “promising green in March” and “promising yellow in September”. The former happens on spring farming eve, Zhailao gather villagers to preach rules about spring sowing, fish and duck stocking, and inter-tillage management, etc.

Remarkable landscapes, land and water management features

Dam fields, hilly fields and terraces are common farming land in mountain areas. Dong’s communities have shaped and maintained the landscape for years thanks to their activities but also to their respect of nature and biodiversity.

Focusing on water management, deep water paddy field is built to heighten the footpath and to increase water yield, so that more fish could be bred in the same size field. Water supplying and draining system are designed by linking driving channels and natural streams together. Field water can be extracted to natural rivers through underground channel or direct discharged. The water line of paddy field is controlled by artificial pool and course-deflected river.