Go­ing Fish­ing – in Rice Pad­dies

Bangladesh has opted for the agri­cul­ture-fish sys­tem to har­vest fish and rice at the same time.

Southasia - - CONTENTS - By Am­ber An­war

Be­ing a de­vel­op­ing coun­try, Bangladesh re­al­izes the grow­ing de­mand for food. It also un­der­stands the im­por­tance of adapt­abil­ity to cli­mate change and had been work­ing on a num­ber of op­tions to en­sure food se­cu­rity. One such op­tion that the coun­try’s ex­perts have been ad­vo­cat­ing is ‘in­te­grated fish farm­ing’.

The term is used for the agri­cul­tural sys­tem that in­volves fish farm­ing along with agri­cul­tural crops and can be broadly clas­si­fied into agri­cul­ture-fish farm­ing and live­stock-fish farm­ing. While both meth­ods are used world­wide, Bangladesh has opted for the agri­cul­ture-fish sys­tem to har­vest fish and rice at the same time.

Cul­ti­vat­ing fish and rice in the same field has been a 2000-year-old con­cept in many South­east Asian re­gions. It ex­pe­ri­enced a re­vival dur­ing the 1980s due to in­creas­ing con­cerns about the use of pes­ti­cides in agri­cul­tural prac­tices. Since then it has been adopted by many farm­ers in Bangladesh.

Rice paddy fields and fish co-ex­ist in a mu­tu­ally ben­e­fi­cial re­la­tion­ship. Many times fish en­ter flooded rice fields and make them their home. Paddy fields pro­vide a good habi­tat for fish which, in re­turn, eat harm­ful in­sects and make the soil more fer­tile through their dis­charge. Other times, farm­ers in­ten­tion­ally in­tro­duce fish in paddy fields due to the agri­cul­tural and eco­nomic ben­e­fits of this method.

Ac­cord­ing to a study pub­lished in the ‘Pro­ceed­ings of the Na­tional Academy of Sci­ence’, this farm­ing tech­nique can as­sist farm­ers fi­nan­cially and serve to re­duce the im­pact of agri­cul­tural chem­i­cals on the en­vi­ron­ment. The six-year study con­ducted in China shows 68 per­cent de­crease in the use of pes­ti­cides and 24 per­cent de­crease in the use of fer­til­iz­ers to grow the same amount of grain as through tra­di­tional rice cul­ti­va­tion. Although the yield re­mains the same, the con­sid­er­able re­duc­tion in the use of chem­i­cals can have a pos­i­tive ef­fect on the en­vi­ron­ment and can also re­duce pro­duc­tion cost. Chem­i­cal fer­til­iz­ers and pes­ti­cides ac­count for more than 60 per­cent of the to­tal cost of pro­duc­tion. There­fore, their de­creased use can lower the to­tal cost of pro­duc­tion for farm­ers.

The study also sug­gests that the rice-fish cul­ture is es­sen­tial for ar­eas with limited re­sources such as land and wa­ter for agri­cul­tural pur­poses. The tech­nique, when com­bined with tech­nol­ogy, can be highly ben­e­fi­cial. In Bangladesh, a study con­ducted by two re­searchers from the Charles Dar­win Univer­sity in Aus­tralia, noted that rice yield in in­te­grated fish farm­ing was 12 per­cent higher than that of the con­ven­tional rice mono­cul­tures.

Along with this, a sig­nif­i­cant de­crease in the use of pes­ti­cides and fer­til­iz­ers was also ob­served. Another re­search in Ja­pan dis­cov­ered a 5 to 11 per­cent in­crease in the rev­enue of rice fish farm­ers in com­par­i­son to rice mono­cul­ture farm­ers.

Farm­ing sys­tems spe­cial­ists around the world could not agree more with the fact that in ad­di­tion to rice pro­duc­tion, an en­hanced form of this cen­turies-old tech­nique can help

re­duce poverty and pro­vide pro­tein­rich fish. Ex­perts say that farm­ers in Bangladesh should be trained in us­ing rice pad­dies for fish farm­ing. For this, Ce­real Sys­tems Ini­tia­tive for South Asia (CSISA) has al­ready trained farm­ers in fish farm­ing and veg­etable cul­ti­va­tion in paddy fields.

The nu­mer­ous eco­nomic, so­cial and en­vi­ron­men­tal ben­e­fits of us­ing paddy fields for fish farm­ing can­not be ig­nored. Fish cul­ture in paddy fields is a sys­tem­atic and tech­ni­cal method that low­ers the over­all cost while gen­er­at­ing the high­est out­put. It is also an ef­fec­tive method for ef­fi­ciently uti­liz­ing limited agri­cul­tural lands. Through this tech­nique, farm­ers who own small pieces of land are able to in­crease their pro­duc­tiv­ity.

The eco­log­i­cal and bi­o­log­i­cal ad­van­tages of the unique rice-fish farm­ing method leads to in­creased pro­duc­tiv­ity of the soil, im­proved soil ox­i­da­tion, con­trol of weeds and pests and in­creased in­ten­sity for the use of soil nu­tri­ents and green­house scat­ter­ing. Rice plants serve as shade for fish, keep­ing them ac­tive and the wa­ter re­mains cool even in sum­mers.

Fish farm­ing in rice pad­dies is a ben­e­fi­cial adap­ta­tion to deal with the in­creas­ing cli­mate change cri­sis across the globe, specif­i­cally in a de­vel­op­ing coun­try like Bangladesh. It is the an­swer to the ex­treme weather con­di­tions ex­pe­ri­enced in the coun­try.

It is im­por­tant for Bangladesh to un­der­stand that the ex­ist­ing agri­cul­tural sys­tem can be im­proved through the use of tech­nol­ogy and re­search. More­over, it is es­sen­tial for farm­ers to re­al­ize the ben­e­fits of fish farm­ing in paddy fields so that they are able to make their lives bet­ter in the years to come.

The writer holds a B.A. in mar­ket­ing. She cov­ers top­ics of rel­e­vant pro­fes­sional in­ter­est.

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