Burkina Faso: Rice farmers diversify by raising fish in paddies

June 12, 2017
A translation for this article is available in French

On Pierre Sawadogo’s farm, fish dart in and out of the shoots of rice plants which poke out of the drenched rice paddy. Mr. Sawadogo is one of the many rice farmers who are diversifying their farming businesses by raising fish alongside their growing rice plants. The technique is inexpensive and the results are positive.

Mr. Sawadogo is proud of his new activity. He grows rice on a paddy which is 400 metres square, located in the Sourou valley of western Burkina Faso. He is one of the farmers in the valley to adopt the practice of raising fish in his rice paddy.

He learned how to raise fish in rice paddies from a training provided through a project funded by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization.

On the side of the paddy, the 35-year-old farmer dug a pond 25 metres square and 80 centimetres deep.
The pond is a refuge for fish, which can swim from the pond into the flooded rice paddy, where they feed on insects at the base of the plants.

Mr. Sawadogo raises two types of fish: tilapia and catfish. Last year, he produced and sold 100 kilograms of fish, a good supplement to his income.

He says, “A rice-fish system has many advantages for us. My pond is small, but despite that I had fish that I sold for nearly two million CFA francs [$3,425 US].”

Fulgence Paré is another rice grower who lives nearby. He also raises fish in his rice paddy. Combining the two activities has changed his life. He now has more money, which has allowed him to buy inputs like fertilizer to keep his rice paddy in good condition. He was also able to pay his electric and water bills, which are an important part of rice farming. He floods his paddy with the help of an irrigation system that requires electricity.

Farmers in East Balgré, Bana, and Sourou have now started combined rice and fish systems.

Currently, Burkina Faso produces just one-fifth of the fish that it consumes, and imports 80,000 tonnes every year. So combining fish and rice is an approach that’s full of potential.

Salif Sangaré is a fish expert who supports fish and rice farmers in the area. He says that fish help with rice production. By moving between the pond and the rice paddy, fish can eat insects that might threaten the rice plants.

Mr. Sangaré adds: “If, for a small pond 25 metres square, we can harvest 100 kilograms of fish, that is very good. There are producers who saw this and are interested [in this business]. The main point is to provide local food. It is the water from irrigating [the rice paddy] that feeds the ponds. The project is very much welcome in the valley of Sourou.”

But the new practice comes with some challenges. One day, Mr. Sawadogo found that all his fish had died. He had to completely restart. He thinks that pesticides applied by his neighbours on their rice paddies may have drained into his pond because of the rains, killing his fish. He also suspects that it might have been an act of sabotage.

The farmers try to apply pesticides on their paddies without risking the health of their fish. For example, when they need to spray, they lower the water level in the rice paddy, forcing the fish into the deeper pond, where they are less exposed to toxic chemicals. The fish stay in the pond for several days until the pesticides disperse.

Some fish farmers start by getting fish fry from wild ponds, while some larger producers produce their own fry and sell them. As for fish feed, rice farmers have learned how to produce their own from local products such as rice and maize.

After his fish died, Mr. Sawadogo did not give up, but simply increased his vigilance.

When he started, Mr. Sawadogo had to find fish fry and fish feed. Now, he is expanding his pond to produce fish fry to sell to other fish farmers.