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Azolla: A New Paradigm of the Future of Rice

Mariano Montano's picture

My research in Azolla-Anabaena (AA) began in 1980, when I joined the Institute of Chemical and Environmental Sciences at Escuela Superior Politécnica del Litoral (ESPOL) in Guayaquil, Ecuador. After many years of research and testing with various partners, the World Bank’s Development Marketplace funded “Converting Rice Fields into Green Fertilizer Factories” in 2008. I would like to share with you the successes of this project, which has the potential to change the paradigm of rice production in Ecuador.


Rice in Ecuador is an essential and primary food for most of the population. The country harvests more than 300,000 hectares involving more than 140,000 families. Therefore it is important that rice is produced cost-effectively and in an environmentally sustainable manner. The production costs of rice depend on the type of seed, fertilizer and phyto-sanitary package used to control weed and insects, costs of labor, land preparation, rental equipment for seeding and harvest, and irrigation. The majority of fertilizers are chemical-based, involving heavy imports and causing environmental problems. More than 40% of the fertilizer applied is released into the environment, as plants cannot utilize 100%. In addition, purchases of imported chemical fertilizers for agriculture account for about 30% of current production costs.

The application of artificial nitrogenous fertilizer in rice cultivation represents drain of foreign exchange. It also contaminates the soil, surface water and groundwater, affecting the development of beneficial flora and fauna, and decreasing productive potential of the land in the long term. This situation creates a great need and at the same time opens a huge opportunity for an alternative fertilizer based on native resources, like AA, and its technical application.

Principal achievements

Azolla-Anabaena (Figure 1) is a tiny floating fern with small alternating leaves and simple roots that hang beneath the water; the cavities of its leaves shelter microscopic nitrogen-fixing Anabaena cyanobacteria (Figure 2. The AA symbiotic relationship represents a proven green bio fertilizer for rice (Figure 3) and many other Ecuadorian crops, such as bananas (Figure 4).
Figure 1 Figure 2
Figure 3 Figure 4


For centuries the Azolla-Anabaena fern has been traditionally used as a green fertilizer for rice in the lowlands of Vietnam and China, playing an important role in the economy of these countries. In the last 70 years, commercial agriculture globally has increased dependence on artificial chemical fertilizers, a technologically costly approach which is not sustainable and adversely impacts the environment and public health.

This project has permitted the cultivation of rice with the exclusive use of Azolla-Anabaena as a fertilizer. The trials produced an average production of 4.06 t/ha, an impressive result considering that the national average is 3.14 tons/hectare. Additionally, Azolla improves water quality, soil quality, and the health of workers.

As a result of project fieldwork, seminars, press, radio, television and internet, many citizens now recognize AA as a natural, sustainable and economic alternative to synthetic fertilizer.

Looking towards the future

My new goal is to extend Azolla-Anabaena to more sites, so that eventually it is used in all national rice cultivation, which covers some 400,000 hectares and affects over 140,000 families.

The Azolla-Anabaena story is now unfolding on many different levels in many places. The development and spread of AA in the Guayas Ecosystem (Figure 5) introduces a new paradigm of “tropical knowledge”.

The incorporation of Azolla into rice cultivation in the Guayas Ecosystem will play a strategic role in Ecuador as it will also provide fertilizer for agriculture, food for livestock, water treatment for the Daule, Babahoyo and Guayas Rivers, aquaculture industry improvement in the Guayas Estuary, fisheries stimulation in the Gulf of Guayaquil, soil enrichment, biota recovery, and carbon credits. In fact, several farmers, businesses, and projects focused on rice cultivation, banana cropping, cocoa plantations, cactus cultivation, pig farming and urban agriculture have begun to adopt Azolla in their farming practices.

Figure 5. Azolla: A powerful lever for transforming rice cultivation in Ecuador

Figure 5

In this table, I have also estimated the potential annual economic savings of using Azolla in agriculture, and related goods and services in Ecuador.
Product/Service US$
Fertilizer for agriculture  313  The ecosystem of rice farms along the coast has the capacity to produce fertilizer for all of Ecuadorian agriculture.
Food for livestock  200  The high protein content of Azolla makes it ideal as animal feed.
Water treatment  120  The use of Azolla in rice cultivation will serve as an immense and extraordinary natural water filter for the Daule, Babahoyo and Guayas Rivers.
Aquaculture improvement  150  The purified water will play a substantial role in increasing the value of shrimp mariculture.
Fisheries  60  Fish stocks and catch will increase in the Gulf of Guayaquil due to improving water quality.
Soil enrichment  20  Soil texture, porosity and organic material content will increase, thus raising its economic value.
Biota recovery  100  Decreasing use of agrochemicals will improve natural ecosystems, water quality and flourishing of natural biota.
Carbon credits  88  The application of Azolla in rice cultivation can be incorporated into carbon credit markets decreasing contributions to global warming.


Building on its success, the project has developed partnerships and mobilized additional sources of direct and in-kind funding from public and private sources, mainly local and central government, of an additional $545,000. I am very excited about the potential for scale-up of this project, and the consequent change in paradigm for agriculture in Ecuador.

For more information regarding this, please click here, or contact the author.



Submitted by Alejandra Arboleda Gutierrez on
future rice,,,,,,,,,,food of the next Generation.- Phd Mariano Montaño Armijos.- Thanks for think in the Development.-

Submitted by Jose Vergara on
Maravillosa idea y gran valor para la tierra y su gente este desarrollo. He probado el arroz producido con la azolla anabaena y puedo dar fe de lo delicioso que es, además en términos de ahorro el arroz cultivado de esta manera es mas rendidor. Adelante Dr. Mariano Montaño.

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Submitted by jonathan espinoza on
I find it very interesting anabaena azolla. I think is the solution to many chemical and environmental problems and production of Ecuador

Submitted by lissette González Reyes on
positive is the study of azolla for the development of the food industry in this new perspective in this plant is not well known, but impressive feature

Submitted by Bryan Galarza Tumbaco on
Es una gran aplicacion de este helecho de agua al usarlo como fertilizante para l cultivo de arroz, puede generar una gran evolución en la siembra de nustro país y de latinoamerica, brindandonos un producto de calidad y con un bajo costo de producción, ya que, este helecho reducirá el costo con realación a los abonos quimicos que son d una costo elevado.

Submitted by David Arrata on
Me parece muy interesante este tema de la Azolla por que ayuda a mejorar la calidad del arroz ayuda también como abonos para cultivos y también como alimento animal yo sé que si usted sigue investigando mas sobre la azolla puede seguir descubriendo más beneficios sobre este helecho

the idea of ​​implementing this mechanism in Ecuador would be excellent because that is the need could satifacer rice consumption. this idea is very bright is the future of Ecuador ...

Submitted by Irving Vélez on
Traductor azolla is a fantastic discovery and innovation, and that helped a lot in the development of the country, and improve production plant azolla applied to it.

azolla in our country today can replace what is this compost also serves as a natural fertilizer for rice development, this is good because the azolla is played twice every few days then we can help rice growing richer, and above all better quality, I think if we use this product q that nature provides us, we become the best rice exporting country

Submitted by jorge samaniego on
azolla a great fertilizer for the cultivation of rice so far does not harm the environment is not as pesticides and other derivatives, such as environmental increases in rice production

Submitted by Xavier Vera Arrieta on
Excellent idea, very good contribution Doctor. in the future will have great benefits and rewards more than safe, do so and later Dr. Montaño

A great research and contribution on the part of the Ph.D Mariano Montano. What most impacts apparently are the uses that can give this fern, quite apart from of the submission to treatment for use as fertilizer. Recently me not were unaware of the great importance of the fern azolla in rice production of the Ecuadorian coast. Project as these are the driving force behind the development, both in the technological field or as in the social field.

Submitted by Roberto Ruiz Paredes on
A very good thing because our country would no longer have to import urea, and the soil is not damaging it would follow that this is totally ecological.

Submitted by Karem R on
I find very interesting this project since rice is one of the major foods consumed in the country. Besides rice is produced in the ecuatorioana coast and is one of the main livelihood for many families in Ecuador.

Submitted by carlos campos on
Grandiosa idea ya que nos ayuda no solo con uno de los cereales com mayor consumo diario sino que también ayuda en la salud del consumidor y el cuidado del medio ambiente. Felicitaciones

Submitted by tyrone mauro zambrano cabrera on
I think is an excellent methodology to make the agricultural production grow greatly and very high quality.

Submitted by María Muñoz Muñoz on
Congratulations!! His research not only help improve the quality of production in the agricultural sector may also reduce the use of fertilizers whose composition can sometimes harm the health and quality of the harvest. With this new knowledge is giving the country one step closer to developing achieving greater profits with less investment

Submitted by Jhon Sanga on
this is in truth the rice of the futuro , this is not only for Ecuadorians also for other countries in special for china, is a great idea , this proyect is already a made. Att. Jhon Sanga

Submitted by dayeserr on
OMG! is very good your article the rice is imporant in the world! CONGRATULATION! {>.<}

Submitted by KarenGianellaContrerasChoez on
I would like to say that Azolla is an excellent alternative for rice in our country. Congratulations for this wonderfull idea. :) excellent job.

Dear all, Glad to have a great burst of comments and exitement about this particular blog entry. Perhaps you can help us grow the outreach by either Tweeting about it and sharing it with your colleagues and friends via Facebook and other outlets. Many thanks for your support, I'm sure Dr. Montaño is thrilled.

Submitted by jefferson zavaleta on
bueno con respecto a la azolla pienso que seria una grandiosa idea ya que nos ayuda con los cereales... y puesto que la azolla es un reactivo poco utilizado en nuestro medio--- ya que en paises extranjeros como españa es considerado como maleza... serio un buen camino explotar la zolla ...

seria una grandiosa idea ya que nos ayuda con los cereales... y puesto que la azolla es un reactivo poco utilizado en nuestro medio--- ya que en paises extranjeros como españa es considerado como maleza... serio un buen camino explotar la zolla ...

pienso que seria bueno lo que quieren implementar sobre la azolla ya que este producto no es muy utilizado en nuestro medio.... en otros paises como España es considerado hasta como maleza ... seria una buena solucion ... felicitaciones

Submitted by Carolina Rivera Rosero on
Estimado profesor Dr. Mariano Montaño Le agradezco su dedicación y buen desempeño como un gran investigador. Usted esta haciendo un gran aporte al país, al investigar sobre un producto que puede ser de gran ayuda en la agricultura. solo le pido que siga asi. y que todo su esfuerzo no quede solo en investigacion, sino en hechos.... felicidades..

Submitted by Luis Robelly on
is an excellent idea because humanity today is submerged in a global concern to control some environmental destruction, and this idea as a solution to the problem of waste dumped by the mines to the river is very good

Very good research and application buiena of this fern which they can use as a fertilizer that helps improve the quality of rice also helps as fertilizers for crops and animal feed CONGRATULATIONS

me parece interesante que la Azolla es rica en proteínas y minerales por lo cual se utiliza alternativamente en la alimentación de cerdos y patos y que también se emplea para preparar compost en mezcla con tierra.

Submitted by Mario Enrique Alarcon Solis on
Well, I think that this a great form of preserving the echosystem,and is friendly with the enviroment because is organic and with almost not toxic for the people and animal and this can decrease the costs for producing and harvest rice and other vegetal products

Submitted by Ricardo Macias Yepez on
It's a great idea, there has been a lot of low-income population in our country, so that the rice produced with azolla is less expensive and the taste is very similar ... good idea, this may contribute quite so social, economic, successes Dr.

Submitted by Mayra Mejía on
Dr. Mariano Montaño congratulations on your article and the effort that you put on this subject, as it is very important as a natural fertilizer, low cost, helping us to have more harvest of a product widely consumed in Ecuador , such as rice. Is used not only for this element, also are most crops grown in this country and in Latin America.

Submitted by Edwin Chacon on
did not really know much about the azolla in Ecuador, but through the information you gave us Dr. Montano, and I understand that this project is very innovative and good and I congratulate Doctor by these investigations is realozando. .. Greetings, I am student of latitude 12, Chemistry Lab.

Submitted by Estefi Batallas Riofrío on
I am a student of espol and I found very interesting your topic, congratulations Dr. Mariano Montaño for his article and the contribution it is making to the farming community of Ecuador on the study of azolla anabaea. The use of AA in rice crops as alternatives to traditional pesticides help many farmers and especially the fact that production costs per hectare of rice dropped. I am amazed at what we can achieve with the AA, I hope the future can be implemented in absolutely all the rice plantations of Ecuador.

Submitted by Katherine Coello Baquerizo on
Your investigation is very important since all the Ecuadoran families consume rice, in addition if the azolla plays such an important paper it should try to introduce as a whole with some program of agriculture to all the families that sow rice, might be like a pilot plan. I congratulate it on his investigation since he collaborates with a country in constant development. Continue with his work and I expect to have hereinafter more news it brings over of this great investigation.

Nos alegra mucho ver la cantidad de comentarios que el blog del Dr. Montaño esta recibiendo. Por favor ayudarnos a crecer la audencia de la misma distribuyendo el enlace en sus paginas de Facebook ( o via Twitter ( Se les agradece, sabemos que el Dr. Montaño esta muy cotento!

Submitted by Jonathan Patricio Chacon Roque on
La investigacion no tiene comparacion ya que la azolla es una gran herramienta que nos permite minimizar costos en la produccion del arroz y lo felicito por su investigacion ademas que da muchas mitivaciones a nosotros los estudiantes para investigar temas de interes social. muchass felicidades... saludos soy estudiante de quimica general 1

Submitted by Jonathan Patricio Chacon Roque on
La investigacion que ha hecho el DR. Mariano Montaño no tiene comparacion ya que la azolla es una gran herramienta que nos permite minimizar costos en la produccion del arroz y lo felicito por su investigacion ademas que da muchas mitivaciones a nosotros los estudiantes para investigar temas de interes social. muchass felicidades... saludos soy estudiante de quimica general 1

Submitted by Giovanni Carbo on
In my view it is interesting that the Azolla fence to replace the urea xq azolla is natural also has other benefits when used in rice fields it can feed the animals.

Submitted by Andrea Torres on
I consider that all the azolla research is very helpful because on this depends our future rice. Also, in this way people get to know that there is a better way to fertilize rice. And this is going to involve another people to support this great idea.

Submitted by Wellington Martínez on
I think rice is a great food supplement as this page has allowed me to know its importance in the world

Submitted by ROXANA ALONSO on
In all aspects the proposal is relatively realcionados this fern, which is why, apart from this, note that it is very important especially within the university that I am following: in the agricultural and biological engineering fields help rice production, but can equally be applied to other crops, improving economically, investments made to achieve these objectives.

Let me congratulate you about this project which has focused very positive, because we all know that rice is one of the most important meals of Ecuador and also the most consumed, because of azolla's high energy level, also will help save sale and benefit so many people around the world. I am so amazed and inspired to continue to research more about this topic in the world because no one has dared to do what you have done. Again congratulations Dr. Montaño and continue successfully in this wonderful project.

Submitted by Anonymous on
Felicidades, sabemos que es un buen trabajo y es una apuesta de futuro importante para todos. Gracias por pensar en la sociedad, en los demás.

It's a great idea that is promoted on rice, mainly on the azolla and to consider our country as the main producer of this project is an excellent work, congratulations :)

Submitted by Marcela Samudio on
Es admirable el trabajo del Dr. Montaño. Espero que pueda seguir desarrollando a mayor escala su trabajo y que sean cada vez más las personas que puedan favorecerse de la cadena de beneficios asociados como son el mejoramiento de la tierra, el agua, y en general la armonía de la naturaleza; además del mejoramiento de las condiciones de vida de las personas que trabajan al generar productos con mayor valor agregado y de las que consumimos un producto tan sano. Realmente se siente la diferencia. Felicitaciones!

Submitted by Evelyn Vélez on
His research will help the agricultural sector because if we spend less money on fertilizer producers will benefit in reducing costs, are overactive and they who earn the least. On the other hand will reduce environmental pollution and therefore we will have a better quality rice. campaign should be performed with this issue and communicate to these people about the benefits that will lead them to work with the Azolla-Anabaena (AA).

Submitted by Mauricio Cornejo on
Albricias. Aprecio el extraordinario espíritu de servicio, del Dr. Mariano Montaño. Su trabajo es de trascendencia para toda Latino América. Marca la diferencia entre los investigadores, se proyecta como el paladín de las transformaciones en beneficio de sus congéneres. Adelante Mariano, sigue marcando la ruta del éxito. Te respaldamos y agradecemos. Un cordial saludo. Mauricio Cornejo El Salvador, Centro América


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