When the man who insists that the internet existed in the days of the Mahabharat claims that ducks "automatically" improve oxygen levels and water quality in ponds, the world is bound to laugh. And laugh it did when Tripura Chief Minister Biplab Deb made that bizarre comment.
Deb's comments targeted the Rudrasagar Lake, which is currently suffering from alarmingly low oxygen levels, an overgrowth of algae, weeds and pollution. Deb's plan is to put a few thousand 'safed desi hans' to work rejuvenating the lake's ecosystem.
The world laughed.
But Deb wasn't wrong this time. We were.
What he said
Deb expressed a desire to see every house rearing four to five ducks. They didn't need to be reared at home, he said, they could be grown in the Rudrasagar lake instead, where they could help the lake recover.
“When ducks swim in water, the oxygen level automatically increases in the water body,” said the misunderstood Deb.
"It (oxygen) gets recycled. Fish in the water will get more oxygen."
He went on to add that the duck droppings even benefit fish in the lake. They would grow faster and in a "completely organic" environment, sparking a rediscovery of the ancient long-forgotten art of fish farming.
According to Deb, the ducks would not just beautify the area but also boost the state's rural economy as well.
To this end, he announced that 50,000 indigenous ducks will be distributed among local fishermen around the Rudrasagar Lake in Tripura.
Why he said it
As bizarre as his claims might sound, the field of 'ecological agriculture' backs up much of his claims.
Since the 1980s, ecologists have experimented with a farming technique called integrated farming. A combination of animals and plants are reared in the same environment because it offers an advantage of some kind.
Ducks, oddly enough, appear to be the golden geese (of sorts) in integrated farming. Ecologists have looked at ducks reared with fish, as well as cash crops like paddy, to look at how efficiently they grow together.
Many findings from studies like these have been picked up correctly by Deb — oxygen levels, cutting the growth of weeds and cycling of nutrients in water.
What do ducks have to offer?
Apart from vitamins and protein goodness, you mean? Because that was a big part of Deb's pitch to keep four to five ducks in every house.
The paddling of a duck’s legs has lent the animal the tag ‘biological aerator’ in a report by the UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO). The report explains that small amounts of oxygen are captured and dissolved in the water that ducks paddle in.
Water rich in oxygen encourages tiny, drifting organisms called zooplankton to grow. These are eaten by fish, and are critical to the balance of nutrients and animals in an aquatic system.
Duck droppings are a source of nutrients for plankton as well as the seabed. If the water is well-aerated, as it would be with 50,000 paddling ducks, algae will not be such a big threat. And yes, algae is dangerous, it can't be trusted. Just look at how the perfidious algae deceives that poor dog!
In enclosed water bodies, low oxygen encourages algal blooms — dense, thick layers of algae that cover the surface of lakes and ponds. They feed off organic material like poop, which otherwise get broken down by bacteria in a healthy aquatic ecosystem.
Algal blooms are known to cause long-term damage to water bodies if ignored. If nothing else, Deb's statements raised a red flag. Woohoo, Deb!
In farming studies where ducks and fish were reared together, the yield of fish improved significantly, as did economic output.
Ducking global warming woes?
Chinese researchers report that ducks and rice farmed together reduced methane generated from paddy farming. In a surprising finding, this pairing brought down a chunk of the global warming potential associated with paddy farming.
A survey of integrated farming studies over the last 15 years make it quite clear: ducks are definitely capable of improving farming yield and income when paired with fish and rice. And they could help save Rudrasagar Lake.
Now do bear in mind that there is no conclusive evidence to back that claim that 50,000 ducks would indeed clear up the lake, but hey, at least it'll do more good than harm anyway.
If Deb's plans actually pan out, we will be witness to history.
You're a visionary Deb. We're sorry we didn't take you more seriously.