Fish and rice are known to be two of Asia’s favourite sources of food. They have also successfully combined the two to create delicious dishes such as sushi. And they have gone even further by developing a farming system called “integrated rice and fish farming”.
Integrated rice and fish farming is a farming system of cultivating fish and rice simultaneously. This method originates from Asia and it is thought to be over 2 000 years old. It was first practiced in China and spread throughout other Asian countries, and recently it has also found its way into Africa.
This practice was favoured by Chinese farmers because it made it easy for them to get their rice and fish – common sources of protein – in one place, so that they didn’t have to move around looking for fish in faraway rivers and dams.
Besides being convenient for farmers, rice-fish farming is a mutual beneficial process. The rice plant provides shade and insects for the fish, as well as organic matter that the fish can use, while the fish oxygenate the water and move the nutrients around, thereby benefitting the rice.
To simplify, rice-fish farming is nothing but growing fish in rice (paddy) fields by using the same area without impacting rice quality and yield. Integrated fish farming provides the option for getting extra income along with the main crop (rice).
A solution to better manage resources
According to an article written by Ashish Mansharamani, Abhimanyu Shrivastava, and Anukriti Choubey, rice is an important food grain that roughly feeds 50% of the world’s population, making it the most popular staple in the world. The authors wrote that rice has been identified as a major crop consuming vast chunks of available water resources while at the same time paddy fields emit a large amount of the greenhouse gas, methane.
“Thus, solutions need to be sought to improve the management of rice production systems. Rice-fish farming constitutes a unique agro-landscape across the world, especially in tropical and sub-subtropical Asia,” the authors explained.
They said the co-culture of rice and aquatic creatures combining animal production – for example fish, shellfish, crab, shrimp and ducks – in paddy rice systems has been proposed as a technique to maximise the use of land and water resources to provide both grain and animal protein.
It has also been suggested that the rice-fish system is beneficial to the environment. This is because as fish allow pest-control and weed-control, fewer chemicals such as pesticides and herbicides are used, which benefits the environment as it lessens the impact of agricultural chemicals. In turn, biodiversity is increased.
According to an article on Down To Earth, global climate change is closely linked to agricultural production and the impact of rice cultivation on the environment, including its effect on greenhouse gases (GHGs) emission, is a matter of concern for everyone.
“Two major GHGs from agricultural sectors are methane (CH4) and nitrous oxide. Methane emission depends on anaerobic degradation of organic complexes such as plant residues, organic matter and organic fertilisers under submerged conditions where there is a lack of oxygen,” the article stated.
Research has shown that the rice-fish cultivation system is capable of lowering the emission of methane and other GHGs. A total of 10 – 20% of methane in the atmosphere comes from paddy fields. This is significant as the global warming potential (GWP) of methane is 25 times more than that of carbon dioxide..
Opportunities for Africa
African countries have also now started to explore rice-fish farming in countries such as Liberia, Nigeria, and many other countries in Sub-Saharan Africa. Local farmers have enjoyed the economic and environmental opportunities that come with rice-fish farming.
According to an article on the South-South website, the rice-fish system has been effective in doubling yield: on average, 6.7 to 7.5 tons of rice per hectare, and a total of 0.75 to 2.25 tons of fish per hectare in Sub-Sahara Africa. The website states that the output value is some $8 550 to $17 100 per hectare, very high by international standards.
“The system has had a notable impact in participating countries such as Nigeria, where it has been successfully implemented on over 10 000 hectares through more than 35 demonstrations with different models, patterns, and fish species. Farmers have accepted the low-cost, high-yield rice-fish culture, and many private farms and farmer groups have managed to include a large number of households,” reads the website.
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