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Fish and rice, together at last

120727_06
People use a net to catch fish in a flooded rice paddy in Stung Treng province. Photograph: supplied

A new long-term project aims to boost fish stocks in rice fields. That was not a typo.

For years, rice farmers in Cambodia have swept up fish – as well as frogs, snails and other aquatic fauna – that make their way from streams, canals and floodplains into rice fields. They then sell the fresh catches on the side or eat them at home.

And now a four-year project funded by USAID is kicking off that reaches across four provinces in an attempt to replenish declining stocks, increase yields and provide an ongoing protein-rich source of food in poorer communities.

“What we are doing here is nothing new to what they do traditionally,” said Alan Brooks, director for Malaysia-based WorldFish Center, the research institution overseeing much of the work. “People are very reliant on the seasonal pulses of fish that are there in the rice field naturally.

“And once the water has receded, the area of land becomes available for rice cultivation again,” he added.

Still in its infancy, the Rice Field Fisheries Enhancement Project is being carried out in tandem with Cambodia’s Fisheries Administration, which is focused on increasing fish refuges, whether they be lakes, reservoirs, rivers, or community ponds that can connect with rice fields either by flooding or man-made canals. The project is looking at areas in the provinces of Battambang, Kampong Thom, Pursat and Siem Reap.

WorldFish estimates that the sale and consumption of fish is integral to the livelihoods of a large percentage of the two to three million farming households in the country, which might be why rice farmers and government officials contacted by the Post are in support of enhancing what already exists.

Long Vandeth, 56, a farmer in the Ek Phnom district of Battambang, said that fish farming provides another source of income and food. However, he said that the majority of people don’t focus on fish farms because they think it’s too much of a personal commitment.

“Furthermore, in most of the rice fields bordering the Tonle Sap Lake, they [villagers] are likely to be less attentive to fishing because they don’t understand that when the river water climbs, the fish will naturally flow into their rice field,” he said.

Hao Piseth, the director of aqua-agriculture development at the Fisheries Administration, said that the farmers gain an extra 10 to 15 per cent rice yield, because the fish make the land more fertile and they gobble up insects, though he added that there are still farmers who are unfamiliar with benefits.

“The farmers in many provinces knowledgeable of fishing in the rice field are enthusiastic with the advantages they’ve gained. We will reach out to the farmers to pay more attention on doing fishing in the rice paddy so as to heighten and improve their living standard,” he said.

To contact the reporters on this story: Joseph Freeman at joseph.freeman@phnompenhpost.com
Kim Yuthana at yuthana.kim@phnompenhpost.com

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