Rice fields produce rice, the cereal grain that feeds half the planet. But there is much more to rice fields than its use for growing rice. Rice fields are economically important as well as ecologically valuable. A wide range of plant and animal species exist in rice fields. Rice fields are one of the biggest ecosystems that can be found in the tropics. They accumulate large amounts of water, become a source of groundwater, and help keep our environment healthy by lowering temperature and reducing pollution.
Aside from birds, the rice fields are home to other vertebrates like rats, snakes, turtles, frogs, and fish. Edible frogs are usually found in irrigation canals, but alarmingly many frog species have disappeared although the reason for this is not yet known.
Rice fields also serve as ponds for growing tilapia and hito (catfish), and other freshwater fish. Many farmers grow fish in these areas. Sawa (python) is also found in the rice fields. A popular delicacy, sawa is a source of medicine and its skin is made into shoes and bags amongst other things.
Large vertebrates feed on plants and invertebrates that are diversely living in rice fields. Large invertebrates found in rice paddies include snails, shrimps, leeches and crickets. Some rice fields even have freshwater crabs.
Insects have the largest number of species present in the rice fields. There are more than a thousand insect species found in the Philippine rice fields. Some of the most familiar insects are the green horned caterpillars, mealy bugs, rice bugs, spiders, plant hoppers, and ants. Many insects are food for the larger animals, while some are used as medicine.
Rice is the only cereal plant that can be grown in standing water. However, there are other aquatic plants and weeds that grow in rice fields that can be eaten or used as medicine. Kangkong (water spinach) and gulasiman (purslane) are some examples of other edible plants found in rice fields. Other plants present in rice fields have medicinal value, including takip kohol (pennywort), quiapo (water lettuce), and pulang-puet (jungle rice.)
Takip-kohol, besides being edible, helps cure skin diseases, arthritis, hemorrhoids, and tuberculosis. This plant is said to cure cancer and leprosy. Perhaps there are many more untested aquatic plants with medicinal value. The water lily and floating ferns look like ordinary plants, but are actually important roles in rice fields. Water hyacinths produce not only high biomass and increase soil organic matter but can also choke the growing rice plant. The plant is used for handicraft making and mushroom culture.
The floating fern Azolla helps add nitrogen to the soil and functions as fertilizer. Diverse microorganisms in rice fields thrive on water, the soil surface, and below the soil surface that is almost depleted of oxygen. These organisms are dynamic and change many aspects of the soil and organic matter. Medical drugs have been isolated from these microorganisms and further research may yield other important uses.
There are many kinds of rice fields depending on where they are grown and the lay of the land. Not only are they terribly useful but looking at the various layouts of the land they are very beautiful to look at.
The shapes of the rice fields are wondrous art forms. Taking in the many curves and hills just goes to show one how even growing food can produce not just food, but great beauty.
Even the time of day can change how the rice fields look.
Even though some seem similar, no two are alike which makes them interesting to contemplate. It’s amazing just how many things one can find in nature that imitates art and feeds us at the same time!
Here it is, Friday again and I’m always glad when the weekend’s here! I hope yours is a good one; especially this being a holiday weekend!