Integrated Rice-Fish Farming System: An Option for Nigerian Farmers

Kembangraps, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

By

Innocent Orji

Date Published

June 11, 2024

Category

Political Economy

Studies have shown that the agricultural sector is more vulnerable to climate change than other sectors. Specifically, its yield and productivity success are susceptible to climate change’s effects. This is evident in the rising global food insecurity, which has affected nearly 282 million people in 59 countries. The major climatic drivers of food insecurity include increased rainfall, changes in temperature and weather conditions, and more frequent droughts, among other factors that have disproportionately affected both crop farming and aquaculture.

Climate change remains a formidable concern for Nigeria in terms of its impact on agriculture, given its economic contributions. Agriculture employs over 70% of Nigeria’s population and contributes significantly (27.6% in 2022) to Nigeria’s GDP.  Nigeria is not void of these effects, as it has had its share of climate change challenges in the agricultural sector. A profound example is the 2022 flood across Nigeria that destroyed 768,000 hectares of farmland, impacting agricultural productivity that year. 

Rice farms were among the crops most severely impacted by the 2022 floods, following maize and cassava. Rice is a crucial crop in Nigeria, as it forms a significant part of the daily diet and meals for many Nigerians. Rice farming has been a common practice in Nigeria, with its cultivation dominant in the northern part of the country, in states including Borno, Kebbi, Kaduna, and Kano. Also, rice is cultivated in fair quantity in the southern and eastern regions of the country.

In terms of production, Nigeria ranks highest in Africa and fourteenth in the world, with Nigeria producing over 7.5 million metric tonnes per year. Despite this number, rice farming has encountered several challenges that have hindered optimal production in Nigeria, and climate change tops the list. Climatic challenges have contributed to the constraint on rice production and have led to significant rice imports, which were placed at 2.1 million metric tonnes in 2023. 

However, Nigeria can leverage climate change adaptation practices for rice cultivation. The integrated rice-fish farming system is a good option. The integrated rice-fish farming system is an innovative agricultural practice that combines rice farming and fish farming in the same fields. This method has proven to provide a sustainable solution to climate change challenges in crop production and aquaculture. In Asia, it has successfully contributed to food security and economic prosperity, with areas dedicated to rice-fish farming expanding more than thirteen-fold in the last twenty years,  further proving the effectiveness of this system.

The integrated rice-fish farming system holds several advantages over the traditional system in terms of resisting climate change effects. For instance, during an extreme hot period, rice plants offer shade that helps maintain optimal water temperatures for fish to thrive, mitigating the risk of hypoxia, a common problem in traditional aquaculture systems. Also, the rice plants are substantial in producing oxygen, which fosters better fish health and growth. Conversely, fish excreta enriches the soil with nutrients, boosting rice performance and reducing the need for chemical fertilisers, which are a significant expense and have limited optimal rice production, particularly in countries like Nigeria. Furthermore, the rice-fish farming system is considered ecologically sound because fish improve soil fertility by increasing the availability of nitrogen and phosphorus in rice fields, which stimulates growth and boosts performance. This system creates a mutually beneficial environment for both crop production and aquaculture. 

This ancient farming practice stands as one of the most significant crop production and aquaculture systems in Asia and other parts of the world. Its proven ability to be exceptionally well-suited for modern agricultural challenges and its eco-friendly as well as cost-effective attributes validate it as a resilient farming system.

Reasons to adopt integrated rice-fish farming system

Aside from its suitability for addressing climate related challenges in the agricultural sector, the integrated rice-fish system offers other benefits. They include;  

  • Increasing farmer’s income: An integrated rice-fish farming system can significantly boost farmers' income through the sale of both rice and fish outputs. Particularly in Nigeria, farmers can maximise profits by leveraging the high demand for rice and fish. The demand for the dual is relatively high due to their ability to complement each other in meals. By combining rice farming with aquaculture, farmers can effectively double their income by only incurring marginal added production costs.
  • Eliminating the need for fertiliser: Escalating fertiliser prices, driven by a high inflation rate, are significantly affecting rice production and farmers’ income in Nigeria. The cost contributes to increasing the total amount required to venture into rice farming, placing locally produced rice in a less competitive position against imported foreign rice in terms of their prices.

However, adopting an integrated rice-fish farming system can drastically reduce production costs by eliminating the need for chemical fertilisers. Fish waste and leftover feed act as organic fertilisers, enriching the soil with essential nutrients for optimal rice growth. This organic approach not only boosts yields but also enhances the quality of rice, which ultimately boosts farmers' profits.

  • Pest and Weed Control: Pests are a significant constraint hindering rice performance, often necessitating the use of herbicides and pesticides, adding to production costs. However, adopting an integrated rice-fish farming system will help get rid of pests naturally through fish feeding on the pests. This will promote optimal rice growth as well as eliminate the need for pesticides, thus allowing farmers to produce pure organic rice, reduce costs, and increase profit.
  • Risk mitigation: Rice farming in Nigeria is associated with high risks, including crop failure, pests and diseases, market changes, and shifts in demand. However, integrated rice-fish farming offers an effective way to diversify production and mitigate risks, leading to greater economic stability. By cultivating both rice and fish, farmers can better withstand market fluctuations and changes in demand, ensuring a more resilient and stable income stream.
  • Promote biodiversity: Integrated rice-fish farming enhances ecosystem resilience to the impacts of climate change. This system fosters greater biodiversity, which contributes to a healthier and more stable agricultural environment.

Conclusion

Climate change tops the list of challenges facing the agricultural sector. Particularly for Nigeria, where agriculture contributes significantly to both GDP and employment, addressing this challenge becomes imperative. A climate change adaptation alternative significant in sustaining efficiency in the agricultural sector should be considered by Nigerian farmers, especially rice farmers. The integrated rice-fish farming system is one good option, having proven its ability to improve productivity in the agricultural sector amidst climate change and offering other benefits capable of boosting production and farmers’ income. Benefits such as eliminating the need for fertiliser, pest control, risk mitigation, and promoting biodiversity are key benefits of this farming system.

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Disclaimer: This information in this article is NOT investment advice. It is intended for information and entertainment purposes only.

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