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Rice-Fish Systems

Low-input rice-fish farming system in irrigated areas in Malaysia

by Ahyaudin Ali

Large-scale transect of the north Kerian irrigated area of Perak, Malaysia

The rice-fish farming system is an old tradition practiced extensively in the North Kerian area of Perak, Peninsular Malaysia. The area is an alluvial coastal floodplain and receives irrigated water from the Tasik Merah reservoir. The soil is primarily clay with some acidity problems. Rice is double-cropped and short-season; high-yielding rice varieties are used.

There are approximately 352 000 ha of ricefields in Peninsular Malaysia, out of which 120 000 ha (34 percent) have sufficient water depth (15-16 cm) for rice-fish system.


Transect of the north Kerian irrigated area of Perak, Malaysia,
with all resource types of traditional and improved systems

Farm layout of traditional system

Material flow on a traditional farm system

Farm layout of improved system

Material flow of an improved farm system

Species used

Local species

Local species grow well in ricefields. They have adapted to shallow water, high turbidity and temperature, and low dissolved oxygen conditions of the fields.

Newly considered species


Seasonal calendar

Field preparation (herbicides application). Caution: use properly and only when necessary
Fertilization (urea-56 kg/ha; NPK-1.2 kg/ha)
Pesticide application (Carbofuran-5.6 kg/ha). Caution: use properly and only when necessary



Calendar of activities

During fallow season sump pond should be deepened once every five years to about 1.5-2.0 m. Perimeter trenches (0.25 m wide and 0.1 m deep) should be dug. Dike should be raised to about 0.4 m. Liming if needed should be done and manure if available should be applied.

Once water is available, field preparation should be done by cutting, raking and removing dead weeds. In about 7-10 days, all exits should be blocked to prevent fish from escaping.

Transplanting of rice seedlings. Weeding should be done especially in the trenches to provide feeding area (on plankton) for young fish.

First fertilization. Add 5.6 kg/ha Furadan (Carbofuran) mixed with urea (56 kg/ha) and NPK (112 kg/ha).
Second fertilization after 60-65 days. Same as above.

Check the ricefield as well as the fish. Stop all leakages to prevent fish from escaping.

When rice is about ready to be harvested, drain the pond to harvest the fish. Take only marketable-size fish (size depends on market demand). Leave smaller fish as stock for next season.

Estimated range of potential fish yields obtained from traditional and improved rice-fish systems

Estimated simplified budget (in US$) for the fish component of the two rice-fish systems

Notes: 1. Notice how in the first season, System 1 has no initial costs and thus a higher net income than 2.
2. However, in the second season, the costs for System 2 go down and farmer gets a higher return compared to 1.

Issues for further consideration

The technology requires relatively low amounts of material and labour inputs and hence is useful for low-income households.

In designing new applications of the system elsewhere, the following information may be necessary: (a) what are the roles of the newly introduced fish species; (b) elsewhere, tilapia recruits are a valuable source of feed for the snakehead leading to overall yield increases when these recruits are present; (c) does the improved system increase the inventory of fish stored between crops; and (d) which rice practices are being used: broadcasting transplanting or direct seeding?

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