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Rice-fish farming could help boost farmers’ income in Myanmar’s “rice bowl”

MAUBIN Township, Myanmar—Aquaculture production in rice-based cropping systems could potentially boost farmers' productivity, income, and nutrition in the Ayeyarwaddy Region, the country’s main rice-producing area.

Funded by Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR) and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, the 12-month mini rice-fish project aims to assess the potential of integrated rice-fish business models to increase the income of farmers in the disadvantaged flood-prone areas of the Ayeyarwady Delta.

“I am happy to see that farmers are benefiting from the investment provided by the Australian government in improving food security in Myanmar,” said H.E. Concetta Anna Fierravanti-Wells, Minister of International Development and the Pacific. The Minister, along with Mr. Nicholas Coppel Australian, ambassador to Myanmar, and other Australian officials visited the site in Tar Pat West Village on 14 March.

The mini rice-fish project is led by the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) in collaboration with WorldFish, the Department of Agriculture (DoA) and Department of Fisheries (DoF).

“It promotes the use of new high-yielding stress-tolerant rice varieties, new techniques in rice farming, and best management practices while raising fish in the same area,” said Dr. Romeo Labios, an IRRI scientist and agronomist in Myanmar.

“The rice field may be deliberately stocked with fish as in our study or enter the fields from the surrounding water ways when flooding occurs or both,” explained Dr. Manjurul Karim, the program manager of WorldFish.

Fish yields can range widely from 350-1000 kg/ha/season depending on the type of rice-fish systems, species present, and the management, according to Karim.The fish provides a source of protein and farm income.

During the visit, the Minister had the opportunity to interact with some of the target beneficiaries of the project, many of them were women farmers. She found that, while most male farmers’ are mainly interested in growing rice, all the women farmers showed great interest in the rice–fish system for the nutritional value of the fish as a dietary component, as well as the extra income from selling their fish harvest.

“I hope that the fish harvest from the project could help the nutrition requirement of the family,” H.E. Fierravanti-Wells said. She is also looking forward to outcomes from a larger rice-fish study funded by ACIAR that planned to begin in July.

U Aung Kyaw, a participating farmer in the rice-fish project, informed the Minister that he will invite other farmers to visit his farm before and during harvest and explain the benefits of the rice-fish systems. He plans to expand the system in his 6-hectare farm next season.

“The DoF also plans to apply the new techniques of rice-fish systems on a larger scale in areas where it is applicable,” said U Tin Mg Oo, DoF Maubin District Manager.

In addition to the rice-fish production, the Australian officials were also briefed about the Solar Tunnel Dryer for fish and the Solar Bubble Dryer for rice, two postharvest technologies developed by IRRI and the University of Hohenheim in Germany that prevent smallholder farmers from losing large portions of their harvests.

Unlike traditional sun-drying, the Solar Tunnel Dryer protects the fish from dust, flies and other insects,” said Ms. Su Su San, an IRRI assistant scientist in Myanmar. “Farmers do not need pesticides to control insects. It can use battery and solar panel as its power source and can be used to dry other product like chili and fruits.”

Mr. Yan Linn Aung, a postharvest development specialist, explained the benefits and advantages of Solar Bubble Dryer for rice.  The dryer minimizes the effects of unpredictable weather during the drying of the grains.  It also traps solar radiation to heat the paddy while ventilators push the moisture out.

“This field visit provided me additional knowledge on the technologies IRRI and World Fish have developed on-farm,” said Ambassador Coppel.

The IRRI Team is led by Dr. Labios with Dr. Jongsoo Shin, Mr. Aung Myo Thant, Mr. Aung, Ms. San, and Ms.Tin Tin Myint. The WorldFish team is led by Dr. Karim with Dr. Nilar Shein.