Integrated rice-fish farming shows promising results in Ethiopia
Yenenesh Mulu, 28, is preparing to introduce fish in her rice field.
“I am thrilled about what I am observing and look forward to this new way of farming,” she said.
As the blazing midmorning sun shone relentlessly on the vast rice fields in Fogera Woreda, Amhara regional state, a group of farmers gathered around a model site to start their discovery-based learning lesson. The 25 farmers are members of an Aquaculture Field School (AFS) piloting rice-fish integrated farming. Rice-fish farms allow the production of fish from the same field area and generally with a positive effect on rice yields.
The farmers planted the paddy rice in July 2021 and introduced the tilapia fish in August. Their 25x25m pond has refuge canals. In case of reduced water levels, the fish can seek refuge in the canals. When the water level in the canals is too low for the fish, they will end up in the pond to be harvested.
The farmers regularly observe the condition and performance of the rice and fish as well as the water temperature. They measure the height of the rice plants and observe the colour of the rice and pest incidences in the field. In a bi-weekly plenary, the farmers discuss the results of the field observations before making decisions about the practices. The AFS sub group members facilitate the plenary sessions. The extension workers also support the learning session by facilitating technical topics ranging from agronomic and aquaculture practices to gender, human health, nutrition, and animal husbandry.
From observation, the rice in the model site is greener and taller than the one in the adjacent fields that are not part of the project. There are much less weeds and pests in the field. This is because fish eat germinating weed seed and pests, thus promoting weed control and reducing insect damage. This also reduces fish feed requirements and the use of pesticides. In addition, fish manure serves as fertilizer, and the movement of fish helps turn over and loosen the soil, promoting fertilizer uptake and root development of the rice. In addition to the production of rice and fish for food and nutrition, rice-fish integrated farming practices make efficient use of scarce water and land resources; regulate water flows and water quality. Other gains from rice-fish integration include an increase in income from the production of both rice and fish.
The members of the AFS are looking forward to the harvest at the end of 2021 and plan to consume some rice and fish and sell the rest in the local market. Most importantly, this validation will inform the replication and scale up of rice-fish integrated farming in the community and the rest of Ethiopia.
“The project aims to prove that the 10 percent of the surface with fish will yield more money than if there would have been 10 percent more rice,” said Martinus Van Der Knaap, the Fishery and Aquaculture Officer, FAO Subregional Office for Eastern Africa.
Yenenesh Mulu, 28, is preparing to introduce fish in her rice field. “I am thrilled about what I am observing and look forward to this new way of farming,” she said.
From the discussions with the farmers, the approach also improved cooperation among the AFS members and enhanced interactions between the extension workers and the farming community.
The “Validation and dissemination of integrated fish-rice systems through the Farmer Field Schools (FFS) approach” project is building national capacities and validating rice- fish farming practices through the FFS approach. This project is also being implemented in Rwanda and Burundi with a total budget of USD 210 000 (70 000 per country). In Ethiopia, FAO is collaborating with the Livestock Resources Development Promotion Agency and Amhara Fisheries and Aquaculture Research Institute, to implement the project.