Across China: A Chinese farmer's "annoyingly amusing" war against egrets

Source: Xinhua| 2019-04-15 22:46:07|Editor: Mu Xuequan
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FUZHOU, April 15 (Xinhua) -- Lei Binghua, a rice farmer in southeast China's Fujian Province, installed a loudspeaker in his farm days before feeding fish fries in the paddy fields.

Blaring out the sound of a wolf howling and dog barking, the loudspeaker is part of Lei's arsenal to fight egrets.

"Egrets are protected animals. You can't shoot them. You just try to scare them away," said Lei, who has not come up with a better solution other than the sonic weapon as it is only the second year that he has tried to farm fish in the rice paddies of Jianyang district in the city of Nanping.

In a video clip recorded last April, Lei yelled at a flock of egrets in the fields. They were startled and flew away, only to land in another rice plot nearby.

"There are hundreds of them. Just can't get rid of them," Lei said, describing the battle against the reckless birds as "annoyingly amusing."

What makes the egrets linger are the carp fingerlings Lei has in the rice fields. Last year, he put in nearly 10,000 baby fish in the spring, but only a minority made it to harvest season after months of looting by hungry egrets: the total catch was only just over 100 kg.

But years ago, the egrets were the least of his worries. Rice prices slumped from 3.1 yuan (46 U. S. cents) to 2.4 yuan per kg, cutting annual income by almost 300,000 yuan for Lei, who runs a rice farm of over 1,000 mu (66.7 hectares).

"No longer can we make profits simply by increasing output given the sharp price decrease," Lei said. "I have to think outside the box."

In 2017, he diversified his inventory by introducing ducks into 100 mu of rice fields, and continued his experiment by farming fish in 50 mu of rice fields the next year.

His efforts paid off. In addition to the fish and ducks, he reaped high-quality organic rice since no chemical fertilizer and pesticides were applied, so as not to poison animals raised in the fields. The organic rice, a much-sought-after product among China's high-income earners, sells at 10 to 20 yuan per kg.

To kill insects, he relies on solar insect killing lamps and has planted vetiver grass as a repellent.

But the growing number of uninvited guests such as wild boars and monkeys are a nuisance. "Five mu of rice fields were ravaged by boars, and monkeys stole bamboo shoots grown on 3 mu of my land," complained the seasoned farmer.

Lei is one of the many farmers troubled by the increasing amount of wildlife in the area, which brazenly frequent farmland and villages as their habitats keep improving.

Xiao Yingzhong, an official with Jianyang Forestry Bureau, said forest vegetation recovered after years of conservation, which has boosted biodiversity and seen an increasing number of wild animals, as ecological farming lures them further into the fields.

Located at the south foot of Wuyi Mountain, Jianyang boasts abundant forest resources and is an important area for wildlife conservation.

Xiao said 80 percent of wild animals in Jianyang were well protected now, thanks to persistent efforts to improve conservation infrastructure and to crack down on pollution discharge, poaching, and illegal logging.

The egrets will launch their invasion again, and boars and monkeys are coveting the crops too: Lei has a slim hope of winning the war. But he was quick to see the silver lining.

"By selling organic rice, I can earn at least 6,000 yuan per mu, much more than the old days even if the egrets gobble up all the fish," Lei said.

Hu Defu, professor with Beijing Forestry University, said that for a long time, wildlife's habitats have been damaged by human activity, but as the environment improves, some wild animals see their population immediately restored and it is their turn to invade into human working and living space.

"In some places, governments have been subsidizing farmers for the loss caused by wildlife," he said. "Local governments should come up with a proper subsidizing mechanism for farmers suffering such problems."