Djawadou Sannia, Godardo Juanichb
a FAO Consultant, Porto Novo, Benin
b FAO Consultant, Buacao, Clarin, Bohol, Philippines
Sanni, D. &Juanich, G. 2006. A feasibility study of rice-fish farming in Western Africa. In M. Halwart & A.A. van Dam, eds. Integrated irrigation and aquaculture in West Africa: concepts, practices and potential, pp. 75–78. Rome, FAO. 181 pp.
The paper presents the executive summary of results of a mission to Mali, Senegal, Ivory Coast and Ghana to evaluate past experience and current activities in rice-fish farming and assess the potential for further development. The main finding of the mission was that rice-fish culture is feasible in the West African subregion. The extensive form of rice-fish farming which is already practiced is worth improving to obtain higher fish yields. Intensive rice-fish culture should be introduced to rice farming in West Africa because it can provide additional income to rice farmers. The main immediate constraint is the need for technology training at local level. Recommendations include introduction of intensive rice-fish farming in rice plots with totally controlled irrigation; improved water management in low lying areas, especially for flood control; assessment of the feasibility of extensive rice-fish farming in ponds along rivers; assessment of the feasibility of extensive rice-fish culture in mangrove areas, with due recognition of environmental considerations; and integrated pest management for rice-fish farming.
Aquaculture integrated into irrigated plots has been considered a suitable way to increase the fishery production in sub-Saharan Africa. Since the early 1990s, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) has worked to help implementing these recommendations. In September 1999, FAO organized a workshop in Accra to consider the opportunity of setting up an Integrated Irrigation-Aquaculture Network (IIA) in the western Africa subregion (Moehl et al. 2001). Two missions were fielded between October 1999 and July 2000 to assess the potential for IIA integration. At the same time, FAO proposed a regional programme to develop integrated inland water resources management in areas prone to recurrent drought in western Africa. Within this regional programme, rice-fish farming can be considered a part of the IIA component. Following the conclusions of the two missions, the Committee for Inland Fisheries of Africa (CIFA), during its meeting in Abuja (Nigeria) in October 2000, recommended to look more closely at the feasibility of rice-fish farming in western Africa.
IIA in sub-Saharan Africa, and more specifically rice-fish farming, should be seen in the context of:
This report is based on a mission to Niger, Mali, Senegal, Ivory Coast and Ghana during March and April 2001. In each country, the authors evaluated past experiments and the current status of rice-fish farming and assessed its potential and the availability of know-how and other resources such as rice varieties, fish seeds and farmers’expectations about rice-fish culture.
The main finding of the mission was that rice-fish culture is feasible in the West African subregion. All sites visited by the team provided a good idea of rice farming practices and revealed that rice-fish farming can be implemented successfully in western Africa. The west African subregion has great infrastructure potential for irrigated rice culture. Both irrigated rice crops under total water management, and rice crops with controlled flooding in low-lying areas or swamps can be integrated with fish farming.
In all countries visited, rice farming irrigation projects have been planned or are being implemented. Because existing rice areas were not designed for rice-fish farming, the height of the dikes is often insufficient for rice-fish farming. Some of the pumping systems used to irrigate these rice fields may not be sufficient to supply the water requirements of rice-fish farming, particularly during the dry season when most motor-pumps are switched off or run at low capacity to save energy.
Water management is the most important factor for succes of rice-fish culture in low lying areas. Water supply can be either too high, with floods washing away the fish, or insufficient with fields drying up too early in the season.
The same rice varieties are used almost everywhere. These varieties are distributed by WARDA through its research networks or through the Inland Valley Consortium. The average duration of the rice production cycle is 120 days. Some varieties have local names. In irrigated rice culture, large amounts of fertilizers as well as herbicides and pesticides are used to assure higher yields. Only in Ivory Coast and Ghana, the use of chemicals has been reduced after training on integrated pest management. This is positive for rice-fish culture. The aquatic fern Azolla can be found nearly everywhere, but it is not formally farmed and farmers often ignore its properties and use. Nonetheless, irrigated rice culture techniques are generally well known and mastered in all the sites visited. Problems in water management sometimes arise due to overlapping activities with other crops in the culture calendar.
In the immediate vicinity of the sites visited the availability of fingerlings, especially of Nile tilapia (Oreochromis niloticus), is not a problem either because there are streams nearby or (sometimes privately run) fish farms.
Traditional extensive rice-fish farming is still practiced in Niger, Senegal and Mali, where river floods and rising tides pour fingerlings into rice plots where they grow until harvest. Human intervention in this system is mainly concerned with the infrastructure and not with fish because water regulation is needed to increase rice production.
Experiments on intensive or classic rice culture have been carried out in each of the countries visited. These experiments had a strong research focus and few or no farmers were involved; the results, whether positive or negative, were often not available. Because of the increasing interest in rice-fish farming, intensive rice-fish culture projects have been planned in these five countries and are awaiting funds to revive research in this field. A rice-fish farming project has been planned at the Private Agriculture Institute of Mianzan in Adzope, Ivory Coast.
During discussions with farmers and technicians it became clear that rice-fish farming is viewed as a potentially important technology in the struggle for food security. Various issues related to the problem were raised, such as lack of technological knowledge and need for training, use of fertilizers and pesticides, expensive supplementary food, mangrove fish, drying up of low lying areas, fish size at harvest, contributions the farmers have to provide, the starting date of such a venture, etc. Farmers expressed a strong interest in this technology.
In all countries, experience in rice culture exists and experience in aquaculture is growing. Innovation is stimulated by the implementation of water management and diversification of the SPFS programmes. Whereas experience in the management of traditional rice-fish farming systems also exists (although improvements are needed), knowledge on intensive rice-fish culture is lacking everywhere. There are a few technicians who had the opportunity to deal with rice-fish culture during a training course in Asia or even in their home country (as e.g. in Dawhenya, Ghana), but they never had the opportunity to exploit their skills. Farmers generally know nothing about rice-fish culture but are curious to discover. Some farmers followed the training in Dawhenya, Ghana and know the technology but, for the time being, cannot put their knowledge into practice because of predators.
Unfortunately, the yield data on past rice-fish culture experiments are often unavailable. However, farmers intuitively grasp that they will harvest fish as well as rice in the same field where only rice was previously harvested. The Niger Office in Niono (Mali) reported rice yields from one rice-fish plot of 9 tonnes/ha, considerably higher than the average 7 tonnes/ha usually obtained from regular rice plots. Results of fish production were not considered in this experiment because of predators.
It is concluded that rice-fish farming has good prospects also in financial terms but not under all scenarios and conditions. For example, it is still not clear if the additional fish crop will compensate for the additional water pumping. This cannot be answered at the moment and further research should be carried out in this direction.
For “intensive” rice-fish farming to succeed, it must be practised at individual farmer or farming household level, where everybody contributes to rice-fish culture management.
Conclusions and recommendations
On the basis of the above findings, the mission came to the conclusion that both extensive and intensive forms of rice-fish farming are feasible in western Africa. The extensive form which is already practiced is worth improving to obtain higher fish yields. Intensive rice-fish culture should be introduced to rice farming in West Africa because it can provide additional income to rice farmers.
The mission also recognized constraints to development of rice-fish farming. The main immediate constraint is the need for technology training at local level. Rice-fish development in Africa will only happen if the following issues are addressed:
Integrated pest management for rice-fish farming.
It is recommended that a development strategy for rice-fish farming in Africa be focused on three main themes: training, experimentation, and implementation.
In support of this strategy, it is recommended that Technical Co-operation Programmes be implemented in each country and that FAO’s Telefood projects be planned to give assistance to the pilot rice-fish farmers who could further serve in the technological promotion. Further to these programmes in each country, it is suggested that complementary action be taken for fisheries and water management. On a regional scale, active participation of countries in an IIA network to which they will contribute with the results of their activities is recommended. These countries should also start collaborating with international research institutes, particulary with WARDA which has an important role in the research on rice varieties used in different ecological conditions and farming systems. Finally, exchange within the South-South cooperation programmes should also be considered.
Moehl, J.F., Beernaerts, I., Coche, A.G., Halwart, M. & Sagua, V.O. 2001. Proposal for an African network on integrated irrigation and aquaculture. Proceedings of a Workshop held in Accra, Ghana, 20–21 September 1999. Rome, FAO. 75 p.