ATHENS — A program led by agricultural researchers at the University of Georgia is helping Nigerian rice farmers diversify their food production through aquaculture systems that incorporate the farming of native catfish in rice paddies.
The main objectives of the project are to develop integrated rice-fish production technology, to develop management practices among farmers and stakeholders, and to determine productivity, profit margins and the willingness of producers to adopt this new technology. Researchers are also measuring consumers’ willingness to consume fish and rice from an integrated farming system.
“The program helps diversify the farming systems they have in place so that rural smallholders have the opportunity to increase their productivity and the diversity of the foods they grow, thereby improving their incomes as well as their nutritional outcomes” said Amrit Bart, a professor in the Department of Animal and Dairy Science at UGA’s College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences and an internationally renowned aquaculture expert.
The program aims to address “the double burden of undernutrition and undernourishment that is prevalent in most Nigerian states due to food and nutrition insecurity, unemployment and underemployment, and market systems that lead to food losses,” according to the project’s funding proposal.
The project involves farmers in Kebbi State, in the northwest, and Ebonyi State, in the southeast of Nigeria, who previously grew rice as a monoculture – or single crop – system. , either for local consumption or for sale in regional markets.
“In these areas, the diet is quite limited in terms of diversity, so one of our concerns is that children and breastfeeding mothers are not getting enough nutritious food. These nutritional deficiencies are often transferred from mothers to babies,” Bart said, adding that nutritional deficiencies can inhibit normal growth and development, both physical and cognitive, in children. “The aim is to provide small rural farmers with the opportunity to do better and, in combination, provide a source of protein and a more balanced diet to communities in the region.”
Launched in September 2019, Bart and other project leaders met with local farmers, community leaders, extension workers and partners from the University of Ibadan in Lagos. The team collected data on the progress of the program and provided additional training to producers on integrating aquaculture into their rice fields.
“We met with the farmers and talked to them about the benefits of an integrated system such as this, and discussed some of the technical and logistical challenges farmers face in maintaining the systems,” Bart said.
The program funded the construction of the pilot systems at six farms, providing designs, materials, fish stocks and fish feed, as well as training and connections to local resources to help them sustain the aquaculture systems.
“We have formulated feeds from locally available ingredients that provide a complete diet for fish and are readily available,” Bart said. “We stocked the fields with local catfish that they are familiar with.”
Combining aquaculture in rice paddies is a common practice in parts of Asia, and Bart helped develop techniques for this practice when he was director of the Asian Institute of Technology in Thailand and Vietnam. He learned that stocking fish or shrimp in rice paddies both added extra harvest and increased rice productivity without using extra land or water.
His team used some of these same concepts in the Nigeria project.
“It is not a new practice, but it is not something that is practiced in Africa,” said Bart, adding that the climatic and geographical differences at the sites in northern and southern Nigeria necessitated adjustments of the systems. “We first had to introduce the concept to Nigerian farmers to recruit participants, then we provided resources and technical inputs on how to restructure their paddy fields to accommodate the fish, the number and size of fish to be stocked, and how to provide complementary foods. ”
Depending on the needs of each grower, researchers helped customize the systems for each site.
“We enable local solutions to these issues with the goal of sustainability,” Bart said. “Once the project ends, we want these growers to be able to continue operating these farms without help from the project, so we are being bold in helping them find solutions that work for them.”
Once farms have started the crop cycle, research students from the University of Ibadan will monitor water quality, rice and fish growth rates, need for weeding or pesticide application and the final harvest.
“Our students will also monitor what the farmers do with the fish and the extra income,” Bart said, indicating whether they use the fish to feed their families, share with the community or sell at the market. University students will also collect data to determine the socio-economic benefits of integrated systems.
To determine nutritional benefits, participating farmers were asked about food habits, food habits, and feed quantity and quality. After the project is completed, participants will be interviewed again to determine how their eating habits have changed.
“Fish is something you can catch one or two at a time and bring home to cook daily or weekly, as opposed to goats or other larger animals which, once harvested, must be eaten quickly. due to lack of electricity for refrigeration,” Barth said. “Access and availability of fish is a sustainable solution for those with nutritional needs.”
Once farmers start fishing and realize the benefits to themselves and their communities, project participants expect demand for the practice to increase. Local researchers and extension workers with whom the UGA team works will continue to help source inputs, including seeds and animal feed.
Project partners are currently discussing potential next phases of the project, including the development of local hatcheries to produce high-quality fish seed and working with local small-scale feed producers to help scale up. scale and expand beyond the pilot sites.
The project is funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Fish led by Mississippi State University in partnership with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations , University of Ibadan and UGA.