Will integrated rice and fish farming help achieve Sustainable Development
Goals in farming?
Over the last fifty years, revolutionary transformations in agriculture and aquaculture have primarily relied upon intensified monoculture. However, sustainable intensification is the need of the hour. It is crucial to address the ever-increasing pressure on food and the environment with agroecological approaches – Integrated rice and fish farming is one of them. Rice-fish production practices (RFPPs) are those where rice cultivation takes place while allowing the simultaneous or rotational presence of naturally occurring fish and other aquatic species harvested through fisheries and introduced fish populations that are cultured (FAO, 2014). This approach increases rice and fish production for achieving a transformation towards food systems with more inclusive, nutrition-sensitive, and ecologically sound outcomes. Rice-Fish culture is an ancient practice that first started in China about 2000 years ago. Over time, this practice was introduced in Indonesia, Vietnam, Thailand, India, and many other countries worldwide.
RFPP can be of two different forms - concurrent culture and alternating culture. When rice and fish are cultivated simultaneously in the same area, it is called concurrent culture. On the other hand, when the rice and fish production cycle is sequential, it is called alternating culture. Both concurrent and alternating cultures can take place within the same rice plot with either an extended growing season for fish beyond the rice harvest or multiple varieties of fish with fewer crops of rice.
The cultivation of rice emits a large volume of greenhouse gases (GHG), the two major GHGs being methane (CH 4 ) and nitrous oxide (N 2 O). Methane emission depends on the anaerobic degradation of organic complexes under submerged conditions. The fact that 10–20% of the methane in the atmosphere originates from paddy fields is significant since methane has a 25-fold greater Global Warming Potential (GWP) than carbon dioxide (CO 2 ). The aquatic creatures will disturb the soil layers and increase the diluted oxygen in the field water and soil. This would shift anaerobic digestion to aerobic digestion and help reduce methane emissions. Hence, the approach of rice-fish co-culture would not only increase agricultural output, but also lessen environmental deterioration, and improve farmers' quality of life. Despite significant differences in the types of production techniques and their scope, rice and fish production are typically combined within the same physical, temporal, and social spaces. RFPP constitutes a unique agro-landscape worldwide, especially in tropical and sub-tropical Asia. It is no longer an agro-production practice but an agro- culture pattern. Co-culture of rice and fish production in paddy rice systems has been proposed as a technique to maximise land and water resources to provide grain and animal protein. However, RFPPs are not the only agro-ecological alternatives to rice monoculture. Other alternatives include the ecologically engineered farm design, which can enhance biodiversity and ecosystem function, and alternate wetting and drying can reduce water and input use in irrigated systems.
The rice-fish approach effectively revives soil fertility and prevents soil degradation, which is a significant global environmental problem. Being a low-input system, it only needs a modest amount of pesticide and fertiliser. Additionally, it fixes atmospheric nitrogen while reducing the usage of agrochemicals. According to the system's economic component, farmers are now more economically efficient due to its adoption. Through this strategy, the aquaculture industry is socially linked to the agricultural sector in a way that is not conceivable with monoculture. This co-culture program will hence provide a platform for farmers to find new ideas and share their knowledge and experience to develop a sustainable system of farming and aquaculture.
RFPPs can help achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) 2.3, 2.4, and 12.4, which are as follows:
SDG 2.3: To double the agricultural productivity and incomes of small-scale food producers, in particular women, indigenous people, family farmers, pastoralists and fishers, including through secure and equal access to land, other productive resources and inputs, knowledge, financial services, markets and opportunities for value addition and non-farm employment.
SDG 2.4: To ensure sustainable food production systems and implement resilient agricultural practices that increase productivity and production, that help maintain ecosystems, that strengthen capacity for adaptation to climate change, extreme weather, drought, flooding and other disasters and that progressively improve land and soil quality.
SDG 12.4: To achieve the environmentally sound management of chemicals and all wastes throughout their life cycle, in accordance with agreed international frameworks, and significantly reduce their release to air, water, and soil in order to minimise their adverse impacts on human health and the environment.