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More fish from Cambodia’s rice fields

Rice Field Fisheries Enhancement Project
Project leader
Alan Brooks
1 Apr 2012
1 Apr 2016
The rice field fisheries (RFFs) of Cambodia cover a large part of the country in practically all areas where rice is cultivated. For human nutrition, fish and other aquatic animals (collectively referred to as ‘fish’ in this project) vary in importance – depending on the typology of the rice field fisheries, the source of the supply (e.g. lake and major rivers) and the demand or ‘need’ for fish as a source of animal protein.
The rice field environment supports a diverse ecosystem of aquatic flora and fauna that expands rapidly across the flooded rice fields following the onset of the rains. This environment annually provides an estimated 50–100 kg of fisheries products per household from around 2 million hectares of seasonal wetlands and rice fields. This represents a total supply of 100–200 thousand tonnes of ‘free’ nutritious food for many of the rural poor.
A number of issues have arisen that are contributing to declines in yields and species biodiversity from the RFFs, including rising human population, increased fishing pressure, intensification of rice farming and erosion of the natural ecosystem habitat. To address these declines Cambodia’s Fisheries Administration (FiA) intends to establish 1200 Community Fish Refuges (CFRs) in 75% of all communes by 2019, designed to conserve natural wild populations of fish for the annual migrations to the rice fields. Apart from aquaculture this is the only source of fish expected to increase in the near future.

Learning from past projects

WorldFish-led project work in Bangladesh and Vietnam has already shown that community-based fish culture in rice fields and improved sustainable management practices in natural environments can substantially increase fish production. This project builds on the learning from these projects and previous work by others in Cambodia to determine improved designs of the CFR, connecting channels and rice fields, and also best practices to enhance productivity of different rice field fisheries in different agro-ecosystem environments in Cambodia.
The project team will test the validity of specific habitat improvements of CFRs and their surrounding environments in Cambodia. The initial thrust will demonstrate the potential at 40–50 locations, for eventual scale-up to the 1200 CFRs proposed by the Fisheries Administration across the country.

Testing and Refining the Options

The project team will partner with NGOs, local authorities and national universities. Team members and local communities will jointly undertake field testing of a range of inexpensive physical improvements and management options to increase biological productivity and biodiversity of the rice field fishery domains (CFR, channels and rice fields). Together they will refine these management options over the course of three years.
Working at the 50 CFR locations across four target provinces around the Tonle Sap Lake the research teams will seek to understand; 
  1. Ecological inter-relationship between RFF domains e.g. effect of CFR size and areal ratio with RFF, impacts of clusters of CFRs compared to singletons within larger inter-connected area of the floodplain;
  2. The benefits from applying different management approaches e.g. fishing regulations, timing of linking CFR to rice fields, use and timing of use of pesticides for rice.
  3. Impacts on productivity and diversity from implementing a range of ecological enhancement and physical improvements e.g. stocking of different species of fish, maintaining different populations of species, depth of CFR, use of brush parks in CFR, efficacy of use of trap ponds and cement rings in rice fields

Outcomes and Impact

The project will give research and development agencies a clearer understanding about rice field fisheries, enabling them to better allocate funding to this important but often overlooked sector. Emphasizing the value and importance of rice field fisheries will lead to their incorporation into national agriculture and water management planning – particularly irrigation development and rice farming expansion and intensification.
The work has the potential to lift average production of fish by 50 kg/ha/year from 2 million hectares of rice fields (equivalent to an additional 100,000 tonnes). The project research teams also expect to demonstrate maintenance and improvement of biodiversity in these fragile ecosystems while productivity increases. Additionally, there will also be added benefits from the increased availability of more micro-nutrient dense species available for consumption intended to improve nutritional status of rice farming families especially children.
Photo credits : Francis Murray