Paddy cum fish culture- a climate resilient livelihood option for rural farmers

Debashre Bhattacharjee,

The challenges, faced by the farmers of Tripuraand other North-East India, are critical. Due to subsistence farming, knowledge gap, improper mechanization, decline in soil health,low productivity,poor landscaping,inferioragricultural infrastructure and marketing conditions, and transboundary diseases, farmers do not get the best value for their efforts.In this circumstance, farmer shouldeconomically utilize their scarce resources to get maximum output in minimum timethrough judiciousinput supply.Paddy cum fish culture (PFC) is the best option in this direction to maximize the output from a same piece of land. Per unit paddy production is higher in rice-fish culture when compared with the rice cultivation alone. 

In PFC, paddy cultivationis integrated with fishfarming. It is highly profitable, sustainableand most importantly is climate-resilient as two crops that is paddy and fish can be ensured from an unit of scarce cultivable area to secure the living of marginal and small farmers whose livelihood are under the intimidation of climate change.In paddy-fish farming, rice is the primary crop and fish are taken as secondarysource of income to secure livelihood of farmers.  Paddy-fish integrated farming is in exist in traditional wisdom since ancient times, however, it need technical backstopping to enhance the farm productivity and doubling farmers' income. Scientific paddy-fish culturecould be a new avenue for additional income and year-round employment, and enhancing the rice and fish production of Tripura. In Tripura, nearly 5000 ha area is potential for paddy cum fish culture. Through scientific interventionin that area, the average rice productivity can be enhanced from current level of 1000-1500 kg/ha to 3000-4000 kg/ha and fish productivity from 250-300 kg/ha to 1000-1500 kg/ha. 

Fish play a vital role in rice cultivation.With their movements they help in aerating the water of paddy plots.The fecal matter of fish improves the fertility of soil and reduces the external application of fertilizers and manures in the fields.Further fish reduces the disease incidencein paddy through devouring the harmful insects and pests in rice fields.

PFC can be practiced in two ways- (1) Culture of rice fish together /concurrent system and (2) Fish culture after paddyharvesting /alternative system. The former is generally practiced during Aman season in moderate to low paddy fields where water logging exists for 4-5 months naturally. Medium carps like bata, gonia, java putiminor carps like moka, darkina, putiare highly suitablein this practice. Mono-sex tilapia or prawn can also be farmed with rice. In the latter, fish are stocked in the paddy field after harvesting of paddy. Culturing of fish for 6-7 months is possible by this way until rice plantin the next season.Minor carps are suitable for stocking. Stocking of common carps in paddy fields should be avoided due to its nibbling habit and stocking of grass carp should be avoided due to its grazing habit on seedlings of paddy. 

Site should be selected with proper care for paddy cum fish culture. Water holding capacity of thesite must be good enough so that soil can hold water easily.There must be sufficient water in the plot for survival and growth of fish without any detrimental effects on paddy crop. Terrace of paddy fields and low-lying fields with good source of water and spacious benches/plots can be brought under PFC. 

Loamy to clay loamy soil is best for PFC. Paddy field should be fertile and rich in organic matter. The site should be low-lying and naturally holds water for 7-10months but must be secured from inundation.
February is the best month for raising the dikes all along the paddy plot for PFC. The dikes should properly be compacted and consolidated for creating confinements to retain water for fish rearing. A height of atleast1.0m is preferable for dikes. After bund preparation fields has to be leveled with the help of spade and weeding necessary.

Fertilizationwith cattle manure @ 2000-3000 kg/ha/month after release of the fish seeds stimulates the production of natural food organisms for fish. Supplementary fish feeding may not be necessary in extensive system of PFC, however, in semi-intensive and intensive culture system, artificial feeding with the mixture of rice bran and mustard oil cake at 1:1 daily @ 2-3% of fish body weight gives better result during harvesting.  

The environment conditionsforrice-fish integration should be congenial. Permissible depth of water for rice cultivation is 3-5 cm. For fish farming, depth of water should be 0.4-0.5 m during nurseryrearing and 0.5-8.0 m for rearing/growing outfish.In paddy field, water temperature shows drastic dial variation, thus water temperature should be maintained in the range of 25-350Cfor better growth and survival in fish. The pH of water in case for paddy cultivation needs to be neutral to alkalineand for fish it is 6.5-7.5. The culture period is 90-120 days in high yielding varieties of paddy and maximum 160 days in traditional varieties.The fish culture period varies depending upon the species stocked.The fish are harvested after 4-6 months of stocking in the case of concurrent / seasonal culture system and in the case of continuous culture harvesting is done on yearly basis only.  

PFC has number of advantages in terms of proper and economic utilization of scarce resources, less/minimum labour requirement as both the culture grow together, production of minimum 2 crops from same piece of land, additional income. Furthermore, stocking fish fish like murrels and catfishes in paddy fields control the problems of stem borers in paddy plants. 

Integrated farming has opened new horizons for increasing food production per unit area at minimum inputs. PFC in particular is suitable and sustainable for augmenting paddy as well as fish production and it high on traditional value and low to capital cost. It is a multi commodity production system with the waste recycling as the key feature. North East India in general and Tripura in particular have plenty of areas under flooded paddy fields.This would definitely increase yield, income and socio-economical status of rural farmers through scientific backstopping. 

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