Integrated Rice-Fish Farming: Localization Through Farm Diversification
This post is written by Oluwafemi Ajayi, Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Fish.
A sustainable food system delivers food security and nutrition for all in such a way that the economic, social and environmental bases to generate food security and nutrition for future generations are not compromised (FAO, 2018).
Promoting local food production has become a priority for the Nigerian government, in particular, for the people living in rural communities who are most affected by food and nutrition security challenges. Coincidentally, this priority includes accelerated efforts to increase rice and fish production.
Rice and fish are important to the daily diet of the Nigerian people, but there are large deficits in domestic production due to limitations in access to inputs needed for production, competition for the use of resources (i.e., land, water), post-harvest losses and access to markets. These challenges have constrained growth, negatively impacting productivity for self-sufficiency and necessitating the need for imports to fill the demand-supply gap.
Farm Diversification Strategy
The Farm Diversification activity of the Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Fish aimed to promote a system of diversification in rice-growing communities. The research team worked with farmers in Kebbi and Ebonyi States, Nigeria, to teach through a series of pilot promotional trials how to create integrated rice-fish farming based on prevailing local conditions. These trainings were spearheaded by research team members from the University of Ibadan and driven by the priorities of the local communities.
In this model, rice and fish were produced on the same plot of land by using natural interactions in rice fields. Fish production does not reduce rice yield, and by giving fish shade, cover, and a lower water temperature, rice benefits the fish. Fish act as biocontrol agents, inhibiting the growth of weeds by uprooting them for food and reducing the need for herbicides, which benefits rice cultivation. Fish eat insects, which reduces the demand for insecticides and aids in the eradication of insect pests. Due to the complementary ways that rice and fish use nitrogen, less fertilizer is needed, and less nitrogen is released into the environment. Ultimately, there is less need for fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides than there would be with rice farming alone.
The practice of farming rice and fish simultaneously aims to improve the productivity, resilience and biological diversity of the conventional rice field while making optimal use of water and land resources. In addition to rice, farmers are now harvesting fish and collecting other edible aquatic foods in their rice fields. This comes with the triple-win benefits of increased productivity (farm yield), profitability (income) and levels of nutrition.
According to some of the farmers, it was eye-opening to them that they could integrate their rice farming with fish production.
Localized Anchorage and Institutionalization
The Farm Diversification activity implementation was anchored by a participatory approach, involving farmers, farmers associations, extension workers and the research team made up of academics and development experts from Nigeria, Italy, and the United States. The farmers were fully involved in the discussions to set up and manage the integrated rice-fish promotion trials.
The activity adopted a farmer-led, farmer-managed approach. The farmers were involved in the management of the system from design to harvest, including rice field modification, rice field preparation, rice transplanting, fish stocking, feeding and other production management.
Because the technology was developed together with farmers, there is local anchorage and institutionalization of the knowledge in the communities. Participants in the activity are now model rice-fish farmers that can show and teach new farmers this farming practice. There are reports of new farmers that were originally not part of the activity now learning from activity beneficiaries and starting to combine fish with rice on their farms as well.
In order to provide continuous and long-term support for communities to maintain and enhance the farm diversification process, pilot demonstration sites were established in universities nearby and with close working relationships with the communities (i.e., Usamanu Danfodiyo University, Sokoto; University of Ibadan). Currently, a fed and non-fed system of integrated rice-fish farming within the Nigerian context is being tested at the University of Ibadan fish farm. In addition to rice-fish pilot demonstration plots, the Usamanu Danfodiyo University also has a fish hatchery site to research simple fish seed producing techniques that could be easily adopted by interested producers in remote areas to serve the needs of rice farmers interested in the diversification process. This is expected to solve the challenge of access to fish seed by farmers living in remote areas — a critical bottleneck for sustainable aquaculture development. The institutional demonstration sites also serve the purpose of training future experts on different aspects of farm diversification, such as fish seed production, fish feed and rice-fish management.
The Farm Diversification activity has demonstrated the power and potential of an inclusive development approach prioritizing local needs and actors. Using locally available materials and drawing on the insights and expertise of community members, the rice-fish system can address food insecurity challenges in rice-producing communities, in particular, the incidence of undernutrition in rural, poor communities.
The nutritional benefits of fish are unique, and it is not only a source of essential proteins but also a unique source of micronutrients. The rice-fish system increases the availability of fish for consumption in farming households. Additionally, the farming model promotes climate-resilient approaches and biodiversity conservation/regeneration while enhancing farm productivity.
The rice-fish farming system has strong potential for upscaling and replication in new areas with a high interest in participation by youth and women.