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Organic farming is a vibrant commercial agricultural system practiced in 120 countries, covering
31 million hectares of cultivated lands and an additional 62 million hectares of certified, wild
harvested areas. In 2006, the organic market was worth US$40 billion and it is expected to reach
US$70 million by 2012.

Professor Ivette Perfecto, a researcher from the University of Michigan, believes that organic
farming can feed the world¶s growing population. She said the idea that people would go hungry
if farming went organic is ³ridiculous.´

She pointed out: ³Corporate interest in agriculture and the way agriculture research has been
conducted in land grant institutions, with a lot of influence by the chemical companies and
pesticide companies as well as fertilizer companies ± all have been playing an important role in
convincing the public that you need to have these inputs to produce food.´

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) defines organic farming as ³a
holistic production management system that avoids the use of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides,
and genetically modified organisms, minimizes pollution of air, soil and water, and optimizes the
health and productivity of plants, animals and people.´

³Organic agriculture is the answer. It won¶t only retain soil productivity but it can make farming
viable. If farmers will have additional income from their land they will continue to plant rice,´
said Jessica Reyes-Cantos of the Manila-based Rice Watch and Action Network.

Instead of using commercial fertilizers and pesticides, farmers can lessen their expenses by using
the tiny nitrogen-fixing fern azolla. In China, azolla has been used to bolster agricultural
productivity for over a thousand years. When rice paddies are flooded in the spring, these can be
inoculated with azolla, which then quickly multiplies to cover the water, suppressing weeds. The
rotting plant material releases nitrogen to the rice plants, providing up to 9 tons of protein per
hectare per year.

Scientists at the Laguna-based International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) reported that azolla
can double its biomass every 2-5 days. IRRI experiments showed that it could reduce the total
weed mass by 72 percent, thereby diminishing the need for applying expensive herbicides.

In the early `80s, the use of azolla as green manure for wetland rice had spread in the Philippines,
particularly in South Cotabato. However, since the late `80s, the socio-economic situation in the
country drastically changed with the introduction of market economy system. Increased use of
chemical fertilizers, the search for a high income crop during azolla growth period, and the
collapse of farmers¶ organizations which provided azolla for rice farmers caused its declined use.
With the popularity of organic fanning these days, the Department of Agriculture and other
government agencies, policymakers, and farmers themselves should take a closer look at azolla.
³It¶s high time to rediscover the many potentials of azolla,´ urged Roy C. Alimoane, the director
of the Davao-based Mindanao Baptist Rural Life Center (MBRLC) Foundation, Inc.

In the past, one of the well-known farmers who used azolla in his farm was Mamerto Fantilanan
ofAngub, Cuartero, Capiz in Panay island. He adhered to the principle of ³giving back to nature
what you take from it.´ His half-hectare irrigated farm provided total self-sufficiency for a
family of 13, in addition to producing a net annual income of X70,000. This was in the `90s, and
the amount was more than twice the income of nearby farmers with four times the amount of
land.

Azolla is a floating fern and belongs to the family of Azollaceae. It hosts a symbiotic blue green
algae, Anabaena azollae, which is responsible for the fixation and assimilation of atmospheric
nitrogen. Azolla, in turn, provides the carbon source and favorable environment for the growth
and development of the algae. It has been dubbed as a ³super plant´ as it can readily colonize
areas of freshwater, and grow at great speed ± doubling its biomass every two to three days.

Studies show that azolla contains 4 percent to 5 percent nitrogen, 1 percent to 1.5 percent
phosphorus, and 2 percent to 3 percent potassium. As such, it can be applied as organic fertilizer
in fresh, dried, or composted form. If composted alone, decomposition takes about two weeks.

The Philippine Recommends for Organic Fertilizer Production and Utilization shares this
procedure: ³Dig a pit and pile the azolla to the rim, or pile on the soil surface with bamboo
fencing. Cover with banana leaves or plastic to prevent drying. Harvest in about two weeks. The
recovery is 7 percent to 15 percent of the fresh weight.´

Rice farmers who decompose rice straw to become organic fertilizer may wait for about 10
weeks to fully decompose the materials. However, if composted with azolla, the wait may just be
four weeks. The procedure is as follows:

The 15-centimeter layer of rice straw is piled in the compost pit or in a rectangular bin (or
bamboo enclosure). Above it, another 15-centimeter layer of fresh azolla is piled. If available,
the
same thickness of chicken dung or other livestock manure is spread on top. This brings a straw-
azolla-manure ratio of 1:1:1. ³Make a pile of about 1.5 meters for easy handling,´ the book
recommends. ³Water the pile as needed and mix every week. The compost should be ready for
use in about four weeks.´

As green manure, azolla can be used directly. For ricefields with steady supply of water, good
drainage, sufficient soil phosphorus, and where straight row planting is used, the following
procedure for using azolla as fertilizer is suggested:

Three weeks before transplanting, the field is flooded and then plowed and harrowed once.
Twenty days before transplanting of rice seedlings, the azolla is gathered from the propagation
pond and spread evenly on the area to be planted. Enough azolla must be left in the propagation
pond for future use.

One day before transplanting, the water from the paddy is drained but about 1 centimeter deep of
floodwater is left. The needed inorganic fertilizer is applied. Azolla is allowed to multiply further
for another 20 days then incorporated into the soil with a rotary weeder during the first weeding.
The unincorporated azolla is allowed to grow. If necessary, the field is re-seeded with a fresh
batch from propagation pond.

Forty days after transplanting, or 20 days after the first weeding, the paddies are partly drained
and then azolla are again incorporated into the soil with a rotary weeder during the second
weeding.

The surviving azolla is allowed to multiply until harvest time of the rice crop which is then
incorporated into the soil during land preparation for the next rice crop.

Azolla is very rich in proteins, essential amino acids, vitamins (vitamin A, vitamin B12 and
Beta- Carotene), growth promoter intermediaries and minerals like calcium, phosphorus,
potassium, ferrous, copper, and magnesium. On a dry weight basis, azolla
contains 25 percent to 35 percent protein, 10 percent to 15 percent minerals, and 7 percent to 10
percent of amino acids, bio-active substances, and biopolymers. The carbohydrate and fat
content of azolla is very low.

Studies describe feeding azolla to dairy cattle, pigs, ducks, and chickens, with reported increases
in milk production, weight of broiler chickens and egg production of layers as compared to
conventional feed.

As azolla contains high protein, it can even be consumed by humans either directly or as azolla
omelettes and azolla burgers.

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A cheap natural feed for tilapia can now replace at most half of the commercial feeds for tilapia
production, according to results of a study conducted by the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic
Resources (BFAR) in Cagayan province.

In an experiment conducted at the BFAR experimental farm in Iguig, Cagayan, regional


researchers led by Cagayan Valley Regional Director Dr. Jovita Ayson found that small floating
plants in fishponds, called azolla or duckweeds, can effectively substitute for half of the
commercial feeds for tilapia production. Thus, the use of this floating plant can greatly reduce
the cost of feeds and give tilapia raisers a savings of 50% on feed cost.
All that fishpond operators need is to allocate a portion of their ponds for azolla production.
Azolla contains 40%-45% protein, according to Dr. Ayson. Fresh azolla can replace half of the
commercial feeds. Since it is used in its fresh state, there is no added cost of production, except
for the cost of collection.

The BFAR researchers reported that a 50-50 combination of fresh azolla and commercial feeds
recorded a higher tilapia growth rate than pure commercial feeds.

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Tilapia growers can save as much as 50 percent on the cost of, feeds by adding duckweeds in the
diet of tilapia.

In a farm trial conducted in the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources Agricultural Pilot
Center (BFAR-APC) fishfarm in Iguig, Cagayan, researchers found out that tilapia fed with a
diet consisting of 50 percent fresh duckweeds and 50 percent commercial feeds had higher
growth rate than those fed with commercial feeds only. Each fish weighed about 171 grams in
five to six months culture period. The feed conversion ratio was 1.65, meaning that for every kilo
of tilapia, 1.65 kilo of the feed combination is needed.

The feed combination also offers the best possible economic return because the production cost
of a kilo of duckweeds is just 75 centavos, whereas a kilo of commercial feeds costs P25.

³Finally, we can solve the problem on high price of commercial feeds given the successful result
of this research,´ says Jovita Ayson, BFAR Region II director.

Duckweeds have been the subject of studies due to its high protein content; these small floating
plants contain 40%-45% crude protein. Various literatures cited it also as viable feed for poultry
and that carp and tilapia can easily digest it.

To produce duckweeds, seed plants must be transferred to a growing area, which could be tanks,
ponds, or any secured body of water. Propagules can be acquired at the BFAR-APC fishfarm for
free.

According to Romeo Pizarro, manager of BFAR-APC fishfarm, 5 kg of planting materials is


enough for a 1,000-square meter planting area. This is because duckweeds reproduce rapidly and
can double its weight in less than two days, hence, harvesting must be done regularly.

When producing duckweeds in ponds, the water must be fertilized at the rate of 100 kg chicken
manure and 10 kg ammonium phosphate (16-20-0) per 1,000 square meters per month. Water
should be changed also every month.
It can also be produced in the fishpond but this practice is not advisable because any form of
mechanical aeration of the water, like paddle wheels and aerators, disturb its growth. Moreover,
its photosynthetic activity blocks oxygenation of the water.

About 15,000 kg of duckweeds can be produced in a 1,000-square meter pond per year, enough
to supply the partial feed requirement of 3 hectares of fishpond under semi-intensive culture
management (five fingerlings per square meter). It can be grown year round provided that the
area is protected from strong winds and other weather disturbances and must not be exposed to
intense sunlight.

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Tuguegarao City, Cagayan ± Fisherfolk here in Region 2 can expect higher profitability for the
coming months as the fisheries bureau in this region has targeted the introduction of, several
cost-related and productivity enhancement technologies for 2009.

Recognizing the high cost of feeds that fish farmers have to pay, the Bureau of Fisheries and
Aquatic Resources has included in its 2009 plans the widespread promotion of duckweeds as
supplemental feeds for tilapia, bangus, pangasius and carp.

Duckweeds (Lemna spp.) are tiny free-floating plants with reported crude protein content of 18
to 42 percent. Earlier study made by the bureau¶s fishfarm in Iguig, Cagayan has determined the
viability of using this rapidly-reproducing water plant as alternative feed without adverse effect
on the growth of tilapia.

Said study has determined optimum feeding mixture at 50 percent fresh duckweeds and 50
percent commercial feeds. The feeding combination even achieved higher growth rate compared
to the treatment that used only commercial feeds.

In money terms, a 1,000-square meter semi-intensive fishpond using this feed combination can
easily cut feed expenses by more than P10,000 (20+ bags) in one culture cycle of 4 to 5 months,
or more than P1,000 per hectare.

Considering that costs of commercial feeds have risen by no less than 10 to 25 percent based on
2008 figures, while retail price of tilapia had remained constant, the 50 percent savings will
certainly mean a lot. Duckweeds will also help us address dependence on imported corn as raw
material for feeds, says BFAR Region 2 Director Jovita Ayson.

As targeted-during the planning workshop with LGUs last February 3 and 4, BFAR Region 2
will establish 10 duckweed demo sites for the whole region.

Other aquaculture technologies to be promoted are: Polyculture. This is the raising of two or
more non-competing fishery species in a common culture system. This technology can
potentially raise farmers¶ income through the optimum use of inputs and culture area.
Last year¶s polyculture projects of BFAR Region 2 had achieved 93 and 58 percent additional
net income compared to pure semi-intensive tilapia farming. The first polyculture project
involved the combination of ulang-tilapia-carp in one pond. The other technique is a combination
of tilapia-common-carp-African catfish.

Pangasius Culture. Pangasius is a fast-growing and hardy fish. It can be cultured in fishponds,
fish cages as well as in organic culture system in Region 2. Pangasius fillet is currently being
imported in the Philippines in big volumes from Vietnam. It is being served in upscale eating
places as Cream Dory fish.

To address the problem of inadequate supply of fingerlings, BFAR Region 2 will establish a
hatchery at its station in San Mateo, Isabela. The bureau, together with the office of the
provincial agriculturist, Cagayan had also proposed to the Department of Agriculture the
construction of a pangasius hatchery at the OPA facility in Bantay, Camalaniugan.

Other aquaculture technologies to be introduced are urban, upland and mangrove aquaculture,
and 45-days delayed feeding technology. The agency will introduce culture of high-value species
such as abalone, sea urchin, mud crab and sea urchin.

To support its flagship fingerling production and dispersal program, Ayson bared the
rationalization of 6 BFAR fish farms in the region with the aim of maximizing utilization of area
and hence, increase fingerling production.

The agency has targeted the production of 12.29 million fingerlings and I million oyster spats
this year as a means to increase dispersal to its LGU and fish farmer clientele in the region.

On the coastal and marine front, the fisheries bureau will distribute environment friendly fishing
gears such as fish trap, trawl line, long line and gill nets in addition to the implementation of
regulatory activities. BFAR will also continue with its widespread distribution and installation of
fish aggregating devices or µpayao¶.

Ayson said that the interventions will help address ongoing economic crisis and will enable the
region to produce 66,400 MT for 2009 which will mean an increase of 7 percent. The 2008
fisheries production in Region 2 was 62,057 MT which corresponds to 56.49 percent sufficiency
in the region.

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