In sub-Saharan African countries such as Nigeria, irrigation and aquaculture play a crucial role in guaranteeing food security the basis for national economic growth and poverty reduction. Aquaculture development, however, has lost momentum in recent years despite the progressive depletion of marine and inland fisheries and only limited irrigation of cultivated land areas. This situation requires multiple water uses within irrigation systems and better awareness of the connection between water management activities and aquatic ecosystems. (http://www.fao.org/docrep/007/y5641e/y5641e04.htm)
Towards a Solution
The rice-fish culture South-South exchange between China and Nigeria begun in 2002 has sought to tackle this challenge. The initiative does so by utilizing the centuries- old, successful, integrated rice-fish system which makes it possible to raise fish and plant rice simultaneously in rice fields in a symbiotic relationship in order to enhance rice and fish yields, increase farmers income, create an ecological agricultural system and protect the environment. Rice-fish co-cultures lessen the environmental impact of agricultural chemicals and help to make rice farming more profitable.
This initiative offers a regional and global network of expertise, experience and skills that are expanding a cutting-edge approach to farming throughout the South that addresses multiple development challenges at once. Through the FAO-China Trust Fund, over 80 Chinese rice-fish experts have been fielded to countries in Africa, Asia and the South Pacific for a two-year period. Other tools for knowledge exchange, including training courses and workshops, have been organized in China for participants from partner countries.
Introducing the rice-fish system in developing countries begins with orientation workshops followed by pilot activities that have a low investment cost (about $1,000 per site). Once pilot results are monitored, the rice-fish model is scaled up to other potential sites in the country. These activities go hand in hand with capacity development activities that include sharing of knowledge and experience to bolster local capacity. The introduction of new technologies is part of the overall rice-fish system assimilation process.
The rice-fish system has been effective in doubling yield: on average, 6.7 to 7.5 tons of rice per hectare, and a total of 0.75 to 2.25 tons of fish per hectare. The output value is some $8,550 to $17,100 per hectare, very high by international standards. The system has had a notable impact in participating countries such as Nigeria, where it has been successfully implemented on over 10,000 hectares through more than 35 demonstrations with different models, patterns and fish species. Farmers have accepted the low-cost, high-yield rice-fish culture, and many private farms and farmer groups have managed to include a large number of households. They have reported a 22 to 100 per cent increase in rice yields and an increase in net income of 29 to 96 per cent. Similarly, in Uganda, fish fertilization rose from 26 to 81 per cent, the survival rate of catfish fingerlings improved from 80 to 90 per cent, fish formulas for different growth stages improved, and farmers’ uptake of the system increased along with their incomes.
This system has been considered as a globally important indigenous agricultural heritage system. Using an integrated technology, it allows fish culture to grow rotationally or concurrently with rice crops in rice fields and at different levels of intensity. Rice plants offer shade to fish while fish nourish rice plants, soften soil and oxygenate the water. The system minimizes risk to resource-poor farmers, increases their net income, and reduces pesticide, herbicide and fertilizer use. The ecological soundness of rice-fish systems, twinned with landscape beautification, stimulates ecotourism and ultimately diversifies local livelihoods.
The strong capacity development and training components of this initiative ensure its long- term sustainability, success and socioeconomic impact, including for food security and nutritional programmes, and has been adopted at the policy level in participating countries. The transfer of the following skills and expertise ensures that sustainable agricultural practices are observed and adapted to work in harmony with the local community: rice field infrastructure improvements; fish/fry rearing and fish/ fry stocking; rice cultivation technologies and support to the selection of the most applicable rice varieties for local climate and soil conditions; high-yield hybrid rice with compact plant types with strong resistance to diseases and pests (reducing the need for pesticides and fertilizers); effective field management practices; and guidance on harvest, pond storage and marketing.
The integrated solution has a huge potential for scaling up and is relevant and applicable to most rice fields, especially in countries with terrain suitable for rice farming. It has already been replicated in African and Asian countries, and new partnerships are continually being negotiated.
A wide range of partners and stakeholders benefits: government officials, agriculture extension officers, business companies, and local communities and farmers in both rural and urban areas. China and FAO have set up the FAO-China Trust Fund to finance the initiative and provide technical support and training.
Contact: Mr. Zhongwei Liu, Coordinator, FAO/China South- South Cooperation Programme, SSC Team, FAO Zhongwe.Liu@fao.org; TCSS-Chief@fao.org
Project name: Rice-fish Culture: An Exchange between China and Nigeria
Countries: China, Nigeria (with replication in Ethiopia, Liberia, Mali, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Uganda
Sustainable Development Goal target: 2.4
Supported by: FAO/China Trust Fund
Implementing entity: FAO
Project status: Ongoing
Related resources: FAO Rice-Fish Culture: An Exchange between China and Nigeria Pamphlet; FAO Scaling-Up integrated Rice-Fish Systems Pamphlet