Going Fishing – in Rice Paddies
Bangladesh has opted for the agriculture-fish system to harvest fish and rice at the same time.
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.