Advanced Search

Please click here to take a brief survey

Article Photo

We can learn a lot from the past about how we might develop sustainable practices for the future. After reading the Worldchanging article on terra preta, I was reminded of the story of Duck-Rice. The name might trigger associations with varieties like Golden Rice -- the high-nutrient concentration food developed a few years ago through genetic engineering. But this new rice is not a result of looking toward 21st century science and technology; it emerges from a thoughtful integration of tools long existing in the natural world.

Japanese farmer and entrepreneur, Takao Furuno, developed Duck-Rice as an integrated bio-system which eliminates the need for fertilizers, herbicides, and pesticides by incorporating duck-raising into organic rice cultivation. The approach is now being replicated with substantial success all over South East Asia as an effective way to boost farmer incomes, reduce environmental impact and improve food security. It is a hybrid of the traditional farming practices of Japanese Rice Farmers and Furuno's own experimentation. The operations simultaneously raise Aigamo ducklings, Loaches (a species of fish), rice, and Azolla -- a nitrate-fixing species of aquatic fern. The Aigamo ducklings provide integrated pest management (IPM) services, replacing pesticides and herbicides by naturally controlling predaceous pest populations and digging up or eating competing weeds. The Loache and Aigamo duck waste, combined with the nitrate fixing properties of Azolla, increase soil nutrition, maintaining levels of productivity comparable to conventional farming operations without the need for costly synthetic fertilizers. The Azolla can later be harvested for animal feed.

A normal organic rice farm would require significant human labor to keep weeds down and maintain soil health, but the ducklings' natural movement aerates the soil and strengthens rice stalks, leaving the farmer with considerable time to invest in other income-producing activities. The alleviation of human effort supported by the process allows farmers to diversify their product base to include organic rice, fish, duck meat and eggs, thus reducing their vulnerability to external shocks such as price fluctuations, and potentially creating price premiums from attractive organic food markets.

Furuno himself rotates the duck-rice system with vegetable crops, allowing him to maintain a highly productive operation on a small plot of land in Japan. There is also some evidence that this form of rice cultivation neutralizes a significant amount of the green house gas emissions that rice paddies produce -- an estimated 12% of global anthropogenic methane output.

While Green Revolution methodologies have the potential to bring advantages to farmers whose traditional practices suffer in the fact of industrial agriculture, Duck-Rice demonstrates that through careful management of complementary species, farmers can gain a natural economic advantage and establish a more environmentally-responsible farming.

by Jakub Olesiak, a recent Masters graduate from the London School of Economics in Local Economic Development

Creative Commons Photo Credit

Bookmark and Share


Folks at Flu Wiki have been considering the dangers of doing this in the wrong way (whatever that may mean) or in the wrong circumstances (when a country or region is struggling to control their local instance of a pandemogenic panzootic).

Clicking on my username takes you to the place where this has been explored. I'm linking to this piece on Worldchanging so that people will be able to comment here (you'd need to register on Flu Wiki to be able to comment there, that's why).

I feel there's an urgent need for this to be explored more deeply: how do we get the benefits of integrated farming without the dangers? It's a scientific and technical matter but also a matter of policy.

Please help!

Another relevant post at Flu Wiki is "Has FAO accepted defeat?"

Posted by: lugon on 25 Apr 07

After many years of reviewing solutions to anthropogenic global warming (AGW) I believe this technology
can manage Carbon for the greatest collective benefit at the lowest economic price, on vast scales. It just needs to be seen by ethical globally minded companies.

Could you please consider looking for a champion for this orphaned Terra Preta Carbon Soil Technology.

The main hurtle now is to change the current perspective held by the IPCC that the soil carbon cycle is a wash, to one in which soil can be used as a massive and ubiquitous Carbon sink via Charcoal. Below are the first concrete steps in that direction;

Tackling Climate Change in the U.S.
Potential Carbon Emissions Reductions from Biomass by 2030
by Ralph P. Overend, Ph.D. and Anelia Milbrandt
National Renewable Energy Laboratory

The organization 25x25 (see 25x'25 - Home) released it's (first-ever, 55-page )"Action Plan" ; see
On page 31, as one of four foci for recommended RD&D, the plan lists: "The development of biochar, animal agriculture residues and other non-fossil fuel based fertilizers, toward the end of integrating energy production with enhanced soil quality and carbon sequestration."
and on p 32, recommended as part of an expanded database aspect of infrastructure: "Information on the application of carbon as fertilizer and existing carbon credit trading systems."

I feel 25x25 is now the premier US advocacy organization for all forms of renewable energy, but way out in front on biomass topics.

There are 24 billion tons of carbon controlled by man in his agriculture , I forgot the % that is waste, but when you add all the other cellulose waste which is now dumped to rot or digested or combusted and ultimately returned to the atmosphere as GHG, the balanced number is around 24 Billion tons. So we have plenty of bio-mass.

Even with all the big corporations coming to the GHG negotiation table, like Exxon, Alcoa, .etc, we still need to keep watch as they try to influence how carbon management is legislated in the USA. Carbon must have a fair price, that fair price and the changes in the view of how the soil carbon cycle now can be used as a massive sink verses it now being viewed as a wash, will be of particular value to farmers and a global cool breath of fresh air for us all.

If you have any other questions please feel free to call me or visit the TP website I've been drafted to administer.
It has been immensely gratifying to see all the major players join the mail list , Cornell folks, T. Beer of Kings Ford Charcoal (Clorox), Novozyne the M-Roots guys(fungus), chemical engineers, Dr. Danny Day of G. I. T. , Dr. Antal of U. of H., Virginia Tech folks and probably many others who's back round I don't know have joined.

Here is my current Terra Preta posting which condenses the most important stories and links;

Terra Preta Soils Technology To Master the Carbon Cycle

Man has been controlling the carbon cycle , and there for the weather, since the invention of agriculture, all be it was as unintentional, as our current airliner contrails are in affecting global dimming. This unintentional warm stability in climate has over 10,000 years, allowed us to develop to the point that now we know what we did,............ and that now......... we are over doing it.

The prehistoric and historic records gives a logical thrust for soil carbon sequestration.
I wonder what the soil biome carbon concentration was REALLY like before the cutting and burning of the world's forest, my guess is that now we see a severely diminished community, and that only very recent Ag practices like no-till and reforestation have started to help rebuild it. It makes implementing Terra Preta soil technology like an act of penitence, a returning of the misplaced carbon to where it belongs.

On the Scale of CO2 remediation:

It is my understanding that atmospheric CO2 stands at 379 PPM, to stabilize the climate we need to reduce it to 350 PPM by the removal of 230 Billion tons.

The best estimates I've found are that the total loss of forest and soil carbon (combined
pre-industrial and industrial) has been about 200-240 billion tons. Of
that, the soils are estimated to account for about 1/3, and the vegetation
the other 2/3.

Since man controls 24 billion tons in his agriculture then it seems we have plenty to work with in sequestering our fossil fuel CO2 emissions as stable charcoal in the soil.

As Dr. Lehmann at Cornell points out, "Closed-Loop Pyrolysis systems such as Dr. Danny Day's are the only way to make a fuel that is actually carbon negative". and that " a strategy combining biochar with biofuels could ultimately offset 9.5 billion tons of carbon per year-an amount equal to the total current fossil fuel emissions! "

Terra Preta Soils Carbon Negative Bio fuels, massive Carbon sequestration, 1/3 Lower CH4 & N2O soil emissions, and 3X FertilityToo

This some what orphaned new soil technology speaks to so many different interests and disciplines that it has not been embraced fully by any. I'm sure you will see both the potential of this system and the convergence needed for it's implementation.

The integrated energy strategy offered by Charcoal based Terra Preta Soil technology may
provide the only path to sustain our agricultural and fossil fueled power
structure without climate degradation, other than nuclear power.

The economics look good, and truly great if we had CO2 cap & trade or a Carbon tax in place.

.Nature article: Putting the carbon back Black is the new green:

Here's the Cornell page for an over view:

University of Beyreuth TP Program, Germany

Also Here is the Latest BIG Terra Preta Soil news;
ConocoPhillips Establishes $22.5 Million Pyrolysis Program at Iowa State 04/10/07

This Earth Science Forum thread on these soils contains further links, and has been viewed by 19,000 self-selected folks. ( I post everything I find on Amazon Dark Soils, ADS here):

Here's a Terra Preta web site at REPP-CREST I've been drafted to administer .
It has been immensely gratifying to see all the major players, both academic and private companies, join the mail list & discussion, Cornell folks, T. Beer of Kings Ford Charcoal (Clorox), Novozyne the M-Roots guys(fungus), chemical engineers, Dr. Danny Day of G. I. T. , Dr. Antal of U. of H., many Virginia Tech folks and many others who's back round I don't know have joined.

There is an ecology going on in these soils that is not completely understood, and if replicated and applied at scale would have multiple benefits for farmers and environmentalist.

Terra Preta creates a terrestrial carbon reef at a microscopic level. These nanoscale structures provide safe haven to the microbes and fungus that facilitate fertile soil creation, while sequestering carbon for many hundred if not thousands of years. The combination of these two forms of sequestration would also increase the growth rate and natural sequestration effort of growing plants.

Charcoal / Ammonia Scrubbing Technology for Fossil Fuel Power Plants Emissions:

Here is a great article that high lights this pyrolysis process , ( ) which could use existing infrastructure to provide Charcoal sustainable Agriculture , Syn-Fuels, and a variation of this process would also work as well for H2 production and Charcoal-Fertilizer, while sequestering CO2, NO2 and SO2 from Coal fired plants to build soils at large scales , be sure to read the "See an initial analysis NEW" link of this technology to clean up Coal fired power plants.
Soil erosion, energy scarcity, excess greenhouse gas all answered through regenerative carbon management

The reason TP has elicited such interest on the Agricultural/horticultural side of it's benefits is this one static:

One gram of charcoal cooked to 650 C Has a surface area of 400 m2 (for soil microbes & fungus to live on), now for conversion fun:

One ton of charcoal has a surface area of 400,000 Acres!! which is equal to 625 square miles!! Rockingham Co. VA. , where I live, is only 851 Sq. miles

Now at a middle of the road application rate of 2 lbs/sq ft (which equals 1000 sqft/ton) or 43 tons/acre yields 26,000 Sq miles of surface area per Acre. VA is 39,594 Sq miles.

What this suggest to me is a potential of sequestering virgin forest amounts of carbon just in the soil alone, without counting the forest on top.

To take just one fairly representative example, in the classic Rothampstead experiments in England where arable land was allowed to revert to deciduous temperate woodland, soil organic carbon increased 300-400% from around 20 t/ha to 60-80 t/ha (or about 20-40 tons per acre) in less than a century (Jenkinson & Rayner 1977). The rapidity with which organic carbon can build up in soils is also indicated by examples of buried steppe soils formed during short-lived interstadial phases in Russia and Ukraine. Even though such warm, relatively moist phases usually lasted only a few hundred years, and started out from the skeletal loess desert/semi-desert soils of glacial conditions (with which they are inter-leaved), these buried steppe soils have all the rich organic content of a present-day chernozem soil that has had many thousands of years to build up its carbon (E. Zelikson, Russian Academy of Sciences, pers. comm., May 1994).

All the Bio-Char Companies and equipment manufactures I've found:

Carbon Diversion
Eprida: Sustainable Solutions for Global Concerns
BEST Pyrolysis, Inc. | Slow Pyrolysis - Biomass - Clean Energy - Renewable Ene
Dynamotive Energy Systems | The Evolution of Energy
Ensyn - Environmentally Friendly Energy and Chemicals
Agri-Therm, developing bio oils from agricultural waste
Advanced BioRefinery Inc.
Technology Review: Turning Slash into Cash

The upcoming International Agrichar Initiative (IAI) conference to be held at Terrigal, NSW, Australia in 2007. ( )

If pre-Columbian Indians could produce these soils up to 6 feet deep over 15% of the Amazon basin it seems that our energy and agricultural industries could also product them at scale.

Harnessing the work of this vast number of microbes and fungi changes the whole equation of energy return over energy input (EROEI) for food and Bio fuels. I see this as the only sustainable agricultural strategy if we no longer have cheap fossil fuels for fertilizer.

We need this super community of wee beasties to work in concert with us by populating them into their proper Soil horizon Carbon Condos.

I feel Terra Preta soil technology is the greatest of Ironies.
That is: an invention of pre-Columbian American culture, destroyed by western disease, may well be the savior of industrial western society.


Erich J. Knight
Shenandoah Gardens
(540) 289-9750

Posted by: Erich J. Knight on 26 Apr 07

This is a difficult issue because many poor in developing countries rely on free range animal husbandry to supplement incomes and provide much needed nutrition to their families. Unfortunately it is as 'biosecure' which means potential exposure to avian flu carrying wild species could be greater than a closed animal husbandry system.

Here are some comments by the Food and Agriculture Organization concerning the issue. There is still significant debate on a lot of fronts.

I would say that the FAO is very reluctant to go on the offensive against less 'biosecure' animal husbandry, not due to selfish interest groups but rather its' importance for the livelihoods of the poor. I expect that they fully appreciate the significant social and economic costs of culling. These animals represent investments, savings plans, safety nets, and income supplements for the poor. Which leaves us with a considerable predicament.

This is my opinion. It would seem that there are greater financial and productivity gains as well as training in more sophisticated patterns of agriculture which are part of utilizing an integrated bio-system like duck-rice. So peasant farmers if properly informed could still have savings in time and money after investing in prevention techniques against Avian Flu over practicing conventional agricultural practices. Proper rural extension services would be necessary.

Posted by: Jakub on 26 Apr 07


Thanks for your comments and links. This could really benefit from "open design": how to have more or at least better food without the dangers. Which means there has to be communication across narrow knowledge fields and from people who hold pieces of the final solutions (rich and varied as they will be).

Questions like "What's the best way to grow rice in today's world?" are significant. Also, "How do we move from A to B in places where the situation is less than good?".

If I can indulge in an off-topic, I must say I'm not optimistic about "changes in the way a few people grow rice" will have the effect to "reduce this pandemic threat to low-enough levels". We all need to prepare for a pandemic.

But if we delay it we may have time to move forward with these "no chicken eggs but insect eggs" vaccines. (Again, click on my username.)

Posted by: lugon on 27 Apr 07

Terra preta greetings,
this practice had been used in Stone Age in Europe and is now called Schwarzerde to be found in famously fertile areas. It concides precisely, to the yard, with the settlement areas for instance around Magdeburg in Germany.
Azolla is the ideal fertilizer while growing and a superb fuel for making chardust in the right equipment. Best of all, you get producer gas from that process with the right aftertreatment (thermal).
The work of Takao Furuno, Alexis Belonio and the people at in Kenya shows the way. It is easy and financially rewarding, but of course not for those people selling nitrogen fertilizer.
And now India has it, too.

Posted by: diazotrophicus on 10 May 07



MESSAGE (optional):

Search Worldchanging

Worldchanging Newsletter Get good news for a change —
Click here to sign up!


Website Design by Eben Design | Logo Design by Egg Hosting | Hosted by Amazon AWS | Problems with the site? Send email to tech /at/
Architecture for Humanity - all rights reserved except where otherwise indicated.

Find_us_on_facebook_badge.gif twitter-logo.jpg