The time has come for the rice-fish culture


China’s area devoted to rice-fish cropping systems increased by 11 percent in 2016-2017 and now covers about 2 million hectares of the country, according to a new report.

This was one of the key statistics – taken from the China Rice-Fish Integration Development Report: 2018 – to emerge from a workshop on the socio-economic impact of rice-fish cultivation, which took place. ‘was held at Shanghai Ocean University (SHOU) last week.

Delegates to a workshop on the socio-economic impact of rice-fish culture, held at the Shanghai Ocean University

© FAO

The workshop, supported by FAO and the Chinese government, brought together 20 international experts and 30 Chinese experts in this field. They discussed how rice-fish farming can reduce poverty, improve nutrition, contribute to traditional art and culture, and promote gender equality.

Rice-fish culture can refer to many aquatic species that are cultivated in rice fields – simultaneously or alternately – and in China it covers a wide range of species.

2 million hectares of China are currently used for rice-fish farming
2 million hectares of China are currently used for rice-fish farming

“It really depends on the climate – in the south we usually have species such as loach, crabs and shrimps, while in the north it is usually common carp. But more and more innovative techniques are found. Thanks to the improved availability of quality seeds, different species, including crayfish, are now also produced in these systems, ”says Dr Yuan Xinhua, Senior Aquaculture Officer at FAO.

“China’s 2 million hectares are now practicing rich fish farming, a figure that has increased by about 11 percent last year,” he adds.

Farmers who practiced this technique reported that keeping fish in their paddies increased rice yields by up to 10 percent – with the fish controlling a number of insects that could damage rice crops and help fertilize them. plants with their droppings.

They also provide farmers with an additional source of food and income. In many poor rural communities, adding fish to their diets provides a rich source of essential macro and micronutrients, enabling healthy growth and development for people who previously suffered from the coexistence of undernourishment and poverty. undernutrition.

However, Dr Yuan is quick to point out that while there is still enormous potential for the system to continue to grow – both in China and beyond – it cannot be universally promoted and is better off. adapted to particular parts of the 113 countries devoted to the cultivation of rice in the world. .

“In China, we focus on mountain areas, where rice is grown on small terraces that are not suitable for using large machines,” he explains. “Our main focus is therefore on traditional farmers in areas such as Yunnan, Guizhou and Sichuan. ”

“In Vietnam, on the other hand, we are mainly looking for farms in the Mekong Delta, where the annual floods make them suitable for rice-fish production,” he adds.

Rice-fish farming is perfectly suited to terraced hillsides
Rice-fish farming is perfectly suited to terraced hillsides

In some countries – such as Myanmar – the rice lobby has traditionally opposed any industry that threatens its hegemony (both cultural and economic) and Dr Yuan is keen to stress that it is not trying to disrupt policies. national and regional rice or aquaculture production.

“We do not question national agriculture / land use policies and do not want to reduce the area of ​​rice fields. We are demonstrating a positive social impact to policy makers by sharing success stories around the world, ”he emphasizes.

And there is hope that even Myanmar will start embracing the concept.

“WorldFish has now secured an agreement to start a pilot project in Myanmar and they are now able to finally demonstrate how aquaculture is not a threat to rice production, but can actually improve yields,” says Dr Yuan.

He also mentions a project in Indonesia in which tilapia, shrimp and pangasius are all grown in paddy fields.

Improving the availability of training makes the system more efficient
Improving the availability of training makes the system more efficient

© FAO

Studies in Thailand indicated that the introduction of fish to paddy fields significantly contributed to the nutritional adequacy of farming communities as a social benefit, highlighting the contribution of omega-3 fatty acids contained in fish. to the health of pregnant and normal women. neurodevelopment and visual function in infants.

The symposium revealed a multitude of socio-economic benefits from around the world – the integration of the loach into the Hani terraces lifted thousands of families out of poverty; the villagers of Indonesia and Laos now have a more balanced diet; the system has helped control malaria in Madagascar and Uganda; and revitalized traditional arts and culture. Besides revitalizing traditions, considerable progress has also been made in the rice-fish system itself.

“The innovative practices of integrating rice and fish farming implemented by smallholder farmers have been very successful in recent times, as farmers are organized in a cooperative and have access to better fish seeds and advice. techniques. Rice production is becoming more environmentally friendly with fish as a bio-indicator, and much progress has been made in reaching farmers through farmer field school approaches, ”says Dr Yuan.

The system has offered farmers the opportunity to charge higher prices for multifunctional goods and services through the branding of rice-fish products and agro-ecotourism, following the recognition that rice-fish systems were granted by the Globally Important Agricultural Heritage Systems (GIAHS). This describes them as an ingenious cultural practice that has the potential to generate economic and social benefits for local communities through improved ecological functions and the provision of multiple goods and services.

Improving access to fish stocks helps the system to expand
Improving access to fish stocks helps the system to expand

© FAO

Some regions have practiced agriculture in this way for centuries, but – more recently – these regions are beginning to promote the benefits of the technique more widely and it is bearing fruit.

“In Qingtian Village, Zhejiang Province of China, people started cultivating like this 1,300 years ago, but now they are promoting it very well and their GIAHS rice now costs 10 yuan per kilo, or more than three times the price of normal rice. “says Dr. Yuan.

It also attracts tourists to the area, thus producing greater benefits for the local community.

“Agrotourism is becoming more and more popular in the rice-fish regions and means that there are now many family hotels in the village – it is a way to add more value to agriculture,” explains Dr. Yuan.

The rejuvenation of rice-fish farming has sparked a revival of cultural practices such as the traditional fish lantern dance.
The rejuvenation of rice-fish farming has sparked a revival of cultural practices such as the traditional fish lantern dance.

© FAO

Look ahead

The Shanghai event was one of the two main rice-fish initiatives supported by FAO last year. The other – held in Montpellier in August – focused more on the technical, rather than the social, benefits of rice-fish production. As a result, in 2019, FAO plans to combine the momentum of both aspects into a follow-up event – which will most likely take place in China in October, which is the rice harvest season.

During this time, they will look for ways to expand the initiative to appropriate regions in Asia, Latin America and Africa.

“The biggest challenge in scaling up is getting financial support, ideally from local and national governments,” says Dr Yuan.

And, thankfully, the concept is gaining credibility more broadly – the Ecuadorian government, says Dr Yuan, has asked FAO to help start a pilot project there as well.

“Now we need to raise awareness of the system – in particular explain its social benefits; try to provide evidence so that people can understand its benefits – both for farmers and villages; try to invite government agencies, researchers and farmers to share their knowledge and experiences; and finally try to produce best practice guidelines for rice farmers, ”concludes Dr Yuan.

Rob fletcher

Editor-in-chief at The Fish Site

Rob Fletcher has been writing about aquaculture since 2007, as editor-in-chief of Fish farmer, Fish farming expert and The fish site. He holds an MA in History from the University of Edinburgh and an MA in Sustainable Aquaculture from the University of St Andrews. He currently lives and works in Scotland.

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