Environmental and Income Issues of the traditional intensive farming
Rice farming in Mekong Delta has heavily relied on intensive system of growing rice 3 seasons per year. This leaves the soil constantly flooded in water, thus giving off a huge amount of methane emissions - one of the contributors to greenhouse gas effect - and causing the lack of nutritious sediments from natural flooding during rain seasons. This rice farming system also causes an increase in pests and disease outbreak, plus less nutritious sediments coming from monsoonal floods. Therefore, a lot of chemical pesticides and fertilizers have to be applied. Yet, heavy application of inputs does not always ensure the harvest for farmers.
Integrated rice-fish farming system as a good practice to replace the third crop
Stemming from this current situation, An Giang Farmers Union – Rikolto’s local partner in 5-year Rice programme – following the same needs expressed by local farmers in Tri Ton District to have alternative model in order to achieve income variations, has shown concern and demand for a project of integrated rice-fish farming system. Integrated farming models, which combine rice cultivation and aquaculture (either fish or shrimp), have been implemented for decades in the Mekong Delta. This model enables the sustainable intensification of food production while diversifying income and decreasing farmers’ vulnerability to crop failure. Typically, fish is cultivated communally during the flood season and the same land is cultivated individually with rice during the dry season.
Since August 2018, Rikolto and An Giang Farmers Union have jointly implemented the project “Developing an Integrated Farming Model combining climate and water smart rice production with income-generating aquaculture for the youth and women in An Giang”. This project aims to address all the environment plus productivity issues mentioned above currently seen at the local rice cultivation area as well as the lack of participation of women and young people in rice production.
Public institutions joining hands in the model implementation
The project has been implemented with the participation of An Giang Farmers Union, local government, Women Union, Youth Union, and farmers in Tan Tuyen commune, Tri Ton district, An Giang. With the facilitation and coaching of a consultancy group from Agriculture and Rural Development Faculty, Kien Giang University, two integrated rice-fish farming models have been designed and tested in small scale in above-mentioned areas from August to November 2018. Within 4 months, the project pilot models have been tested. Due to specific requirements in the right infrastructure for fish growing and right amount of flooding water based on the specified system of dykes, the local implementers decided to first try fish culturing for the Fall – Winter crop ( the third crop in the 3 crops per year ) in 2 households to see how the model can go forward and to what extent it can benefit the farmers in terms of bringing more income variations, as well as improving soil health due to fish waste as organic fertilizer and less intensive farming.
The first model is to raise snakehead. For snakehead, they need to build a pond in which the water has to stay still, which is supposed to be the ideal environment for snakeheads. In the second model, “ Cá Trắng” is chosen. This kind of fish lives freely in moving flow of water, therefore the farmers do not need to build a pond, they let the fish stay in the dyke systems, using natural irrigation flows. The first model requires more capital and time investment, thus producing higher profits. With “Ca Trang”, the model is more flexible and costs less time and money, harvesting time comes sooner, yet with lower profit due to the fact that snakeheads have higher market price than Ca Trang.
With continuous support of the partners to local farmers, including testing, and learning, the project has successfully conducted many analyses, most importantly the fish market analysis focusing on natural, human, social, physical and financial resources and designing fish models which is done through group discussion involving local communities, authorities and mass organizations. They reached 25% workload of conducting the rice-fish model in 3 –rice crops areas, delivered training courses for farmers and partners. Furthermore, the documentation of co-design development process and pilot has been done and the first draft for the second rice-fish system has been halfway prepared.