While passing through various parts of Kerala, the sight of hundreds of ducks wading through paddy fields after the harvest — soon after new plants are sown — is an amazing scene, one that serves as a reminder of tradition, farming and seasonal changes. After the paddy harvest, duck farmers from in and around the state head to fields all over Kerala to allow their ducks to wade. In return, these duck farmers give a small amount of money to paddy farmers. Sometimes the remuneration is limited to a few ducks or their eggs.
Thrissur Kole wetlands, where a large quantity of rice cultivation is conducted, is also listed under the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands of International Importance, as well as a hub of duck farming. After the harvest, the paddy fields of Kole resemble a lake filled with water. Farmers then pump out water, which is when the migratory birds as well the domestic ducks would come to the fields. Kole fields witness thousands of migratory birds each season.
"The reason why ducks are reared in paddy fields is because they get a lot of food there. There will be some rice, weeds and a lot of worms. Apart from local farmers, ducks are brought from other districts in trucks to let them wade here, so that they have enough food," Manoj Karingamadathil, a Kole farmer and who is founder of a voluntary community called Kole Birders, which has been documenting birds and biodiversity of Kole fields.
The ducks are allowed to wade at different paddy fields, depending on the season of paddy harvest and cultivation. If the planting process has begun at a field, they are moved to another field. Soon after the harvest, these ducks are allowed to feed from the fields for a month. After seedlings of paddy are planted, they are allowed to wade for two or three months.
Photo : Manoj Karingamadathil
For both duck and paddy farmers, the presence of the birds in the fields for specific periods of time is a boon. In Kole, farmers have found that duck rearing in fields help to reduce pests.
"Ducks would eat and defecate there in the field, which is good manure. As part of organic farming, we have experimented by growing fish and ducks along with the paddy. Then our paddy fields had an attack of northern army worms, but it was found that ducks ate those worms in a few days, which was very helpful for farmers," Manoj said.
"For the last many years, we have been doing organic farming. So we cannot use pesticides or insecticides. These ducks help us a lot by eating up these pests," Kumaran, a paddy farmer from Ombathumuri Kole, Adat, said.
These birds also play the role of labourers by mildly ploughing the land to enhance the growth of plants.
Photo : Manoj Karingamadathil
"Ducks eat all the rice that fall during the harvest. We also let these birds wade around about 15 days after planting seedlings. They wade between the plants and weeds that grow in that area, and clear it. They also do a small amount of ploughing, which helps in mixing the manure already applied to the soil," he added.
However in Alappuzha region, where ducks are branded and are in high demand, some farmers are hesitant to allow ducks in fields as they think that these birds would destroy the bunds in the fields. But not all agree with this assessment. "Even if they destroy bunds, they should be allowed in the fields. They would eat the weed seeds along with the remaining paddy. They clear the fields. In Alappuzha, we allow ducks only after the harvest," Tinto K Edayadi, a farmer from Kuttanad, said.
"Earlier, this was done everywhere. These duck farmers would give us ducks when they left. We would use that for Christmas or Easter. It was part of tradition. It was mutually beneficial. But now some farmers here are reluctant to allow them," he added.