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Production of fish in rice fields is almost as old as the prectice of rice or paddy culture itself (combined culture of rice and fish is also known as Paddy-cum-fish culture - see for e.g. Jhingran, 1975; Kutty, 1976). Whenever water is stagnated within bunds as for rice culture, fish which naturally occur in the irrigation water and nearby tanks and pools enter the paddy-fields and grow there until harvest, along with the paddy. Thus fish production in rice fields dates from very early days, even though it was based on capture rather than culture.

It is suggested that fish culture in rice fields was introduced into South-East Asia from India about 1500 years ago, where presently it is the best developed (Tamura, 1961; Coche, 1967; Huet, 1967; Vincke, 1979). Around 1900 this type of fish culture was begun in Madagascar. Towards the end of 19th century fish culture in rice fields was practised in Italy. It has since spread to U.S.A. (Arkansas). Rice-cum-fish culture is well established in other paddy (rice) growing countries, especially in Taiwan and Japan. Culture practices in various countries will be referred to separately hereunder.

Various studies exist on fish (including prawns) culture in rice fields. Two excellent reviews in the subject made recently are those of Coche (1967) and Vincke (1979). The present status of fish culture in rice fields, as part of integrated agriculture-aquaculture farming systems, have been reviewed in Pullin and Shehadeh (1980), and more recently by Micha and P. Vincke (1985). As already referred to, some production in water bodies confined by the rice field must have always existed, apparently unrecorded in scientific literature. My own personal impressions by living by the edge of paddy fields (fresh water) of Malabar (Kerala - India) is that there was always a few kilograms (often over 3 kg ha) of fish (Channa, Clarias and Saccobranchus - all air breathers - and minor carps) harvested along with the rice. When flood waters gushed through sluices in the bunds conical bamboo traps placed in the sluices always yielded fish. Thus in the vast areas where rice grew with rain or irrigated water, wild fish also grow. Therefore the recorded production of fish from rice fields (until recent introduction of high yielding technology for rice production bringing in the “green revolution”) must be much lower than the actual production realised. Thus in India where fish culture in rice fields is expected to have originated, the production figures shown are not impressive (see, Hora & Pillay, 1962; Coche 1967). Perhaps there is a better record of fish and prawn production in rice fields under tidal influences (brackish water) in India (Panikkar, 1937; Hora, 1951; 1952; Menon, 1954; Panikkar and Menon, 1955; Gopinath, 1955; Pillay and Bose, 1958; Menon and Raman, 1961; Hora and Pillay, 1962; Raman, 1968; Mudanna et al 1970; Jhingran, 1975; Vincke, 1979).

References to fish production in rice fields in the various countries of the world can be found in Coche (1967) and Vincke (1979) - China (Taiwan) Hickling, 1962; Indonesia Hofstode and Ardiwinata, 1950; Huet 1956; Ardiwinata, 1957; Hora and Pillay, 1962, Japan - Koronuma 1954; Hickling, 1962; Tamura, 1961; Malaysia - Schuster 1955; Soong, 1954; Hora and Pillay, 1962; Tan et al, 1972; Thailand - Swingle and Shell, 1972; Vietnam - Hora and Pillay, 1962; Coche, 1967.

Experimental studies on rice-cum-fish culture in Africa have also been reported as indicated hereunder: Ivory Coast - Vincke, 1976; Gabon and Liberia - Vincke, 1976; Madagascar - Lemasson, 1954; Kiener, 1956; Rabelahatra, 1972; Rhodesia (Zimbabwe) - Maar, 1959; Tanzania - Schuster, 1955; Zaire - Coche, 1960.

In Europe, culture in Italy is reported by Tonolli (1975) and in North America (U.S.A.) - Green and Mullins (1959). Some aspects of culture from these studies will be referred to again.

Table I taken from Coche (1967) indicates the extent of rice-growing areas in the well established rice-cum-fish culture areas of the world. The percent of land under rice-cum-fish culture in various rice-growing countries is indicated in Table II.

Table I: Fish culture in rice fields
(From Coche, 1967)

Importance of fish culture in wet rice fields, in countries where it is well established.

CountryYearArea,ha.Approx. fish yield, m.tons   Reference
A. Captural systems    
19564,000,0006,000ARDIWINATA, 1957
Malaya, partim
1954200,0007,500SOONG, 1954
B. Cultural systems    
195565,1679,088HUET, 1956
19589,000462HICKLING, 1962
1958100?KIENER, 1958
19553,144740HICKLING, 1962
195830,0003,200GREEN and MULLINE 1959
C. Miscellaneous    
-1,619-   HORA & PILLAY, 1962

Table II: Estimated areas of wet rice fields, with and without fish culture in the Indo-Pacific Region -
(From Hora & Pillay, 1962)

CountryEstimated area of wet rice fields
Without fish culture thousands ha.With fish culture
thousands haPercentage of total area under wet rice
Borneo     17.5-  -  
Burma   510.0-  -  
Cambodia1,400.0-  -  
Sri Lanka   350.0-  -  
Korea, South1,226.4-  -  
Indonesia4,500.067.0 1.5  
Malaya   314.545.5 12.6    
Pakistan     43.412.0 3.6  

Scope for Fish Culture in Rice Fields

Fish culture in rice fields offer one of the best means of “contemporaneors production of grain and animal protein on the same piece of land” (Schuster, 1955) and is one of the most ideal methods of land use. Paddy-cum-fish culture or rizipisciculture is, so to say, production of nutritionally balanced food at the source itself.

As already pointed out fish and rice production exist at some level together almost everywhere rice is grown. In any projection of aquaculture production a large extent of potential area for aquaculture often included is the available area in rice fields (Pillay, 1973; Kutty, 1980). It has been estimated that about 80 million hectares of land are under rice cultivation in the world (Coche, 1967; Jhingran, 1975).

It is however estimated that a potential fish yield of 2.2 – 2.4 million metric tons could be obtained annually from the rice fields (Coche, 1967; Pillay, 1973; Vincke, 1979).

Increased yield from rice fields is possible but introduction of modern technologies of rice production, by using large amounts of chemicals as fertilizers and pesticides, as done presently, makes it almost impossible for contemporaneous production of rice and fish from the same field. The rise and fall of fish production in rice fields of Japan during 1900 – 1970 (Nambiar, 1970) is a good example of this (Fig. 1). Under the traditional rice culture conditions rice and fish are more compatible. This may also be true of alternate production of rice and fish (rotation of crops). Some level of reduction of pestidices and weedicides in rice cultivation is possible when rice is grown with fish, but would it be possible to eliminate the fish killing pesticides and still get good yield of both?

Present technology of rice and fish cultivation has no answer, but it is not unthinkable to have rice cultivation using more resistant varieties (the plant breeders are already well ahead in this respect) and also to use biological control methods for eliminating rice pests. These developments may take a longer time, but as far as possible pesticide use can be restricted or pesticides used can be so chosen that they cause least damage to the fish. In any case it will be imperative for man to find a compromise for growing rice and fish together, for with the growth of populations with time and with the concomittant increased demand for land and water, demand for grain and protein will be maximal. We shall come to this again, while discussing the relative merits and demerits of fish culture in the rice fields.


Fig. 1. Trend in fish production from rice fields in Japan (Data from Nambiar, 1970)

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