Sunday, February 14, 2010

Storks Bring Good Luck to Rice Farmers in Toyooka

Frogs or fish?: Two Oriental storks are seen in a rice paddy in Toyooka, Hyogo Prefecture, in July 2007. Photo courtesy: Toyooka Municipal Government

There have been many fables about storks, the most popular being that babies were delivered by storks who dropped them down the chimneys of the prospective parents. Children are sometimes born with reddish marks on their faces that eventually disappear. These marks have become commonly known as "stork bites" alluding to the stork's beak irritating the newborns skin during the flight to their new home. Some cultures, believe that the yearly arrival of the stork back to their nesting grounds also brings good luck; and, this is certainly the case in Toyooka. Toyooka is located in Japan, in Hyogo Prefecture, where storks have brought good fortune to the rice farmers there.

The amazingly beautiful wild Oriental stork population has been rapidly declining for years. At one time, the Oriental Stork could be found in Japan, China, Korea and Russia. It is now almost extinct in Japan and on the Korean peninsula.

Toyooka is the last area in Japan where wild Oriental storks are living wild and natural lives due to the efforts of the local community. In 1989, the began to artificially breed the birds and release the offspring back into the wild.

Miraculously, in May 2007, a hatchling was reported in Japan for the first time in 40 years in the wild. It was the offspring of two storks who were bred in captivity as part of the effort to bring the storks back from the brink of extinction.

As part of the effort, local rice farmers were approached and asked to cooperate by reducing the amount of agricultural chemicals they used. After some initial resistance by many farmers who feared the switch to fewer chemicals would greatly increase their work load; and, possibly decrease their harvests. Eventually, they were won over by the government promises to provide subsidies.

In 2003, they started using less agricultural chemicals in the growing of their rice. This was the beginning of the efforts to preserve the frogs and fish in the area - the main prey of the storks.

Various methods were used to help reduce the use of chemicals. Two of the major changes are:

1) Higher water levels were maintained in the paddies so fewer weeds could grow.
2) The farmers have dug channels which connect their paddies to their water channels. This allows loaches to move freely around the growing rice seedlings. Loaches help the rice grow by eating harmful insects and organic debris.

This switch to fewer chemicals and more environmentally-friendly growing methods has not only helped the storks; but, it has had an unexpected bonus for the rice farmers. The cost of Koshihikari rice grown in the area is now 30% - 50% more expensive than any other rice. The reason - more and more consumers prefer organic produce and are willing to pay the price if necessary.

"This rice has grown in the environment. It is very good to human health," said rice farmer Ichio Narita, 53. "We want to continue farming this rice down the generations."

Via The Japan Times

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

What a great resource!

Anonymous said...

Very Interesting!
Thank You!

Tony said...

Good for them