Integrating rice and fish farming in Mali, with less fertilizers

Bernard Doumbia, a rice farmer in Mali’s Sikasso Region, successfully transitioned to an integrated rice-fish farming system, eliminating the need for expensive fertilizers and providing an additional revenue stream from fish. The integrated rice-fish farming system, championed by Bernard and supported by the Accelerating Impacts of CGIAR Climate Research for Africa (AICCRA) project in Mali, is recognized as a climate-resilient farming method enhancing farmers’ ability to adapt to climate challenges. 

Bernard Doumbia has been growing rice in Mali's Sikasso Region, for around 20 years. In 2022, he made a big change, transitioning his farm to an integrated rice-fish farm. Integrated rice-fish farming is an agricultural practice that combines the cultivation of rice and fish in the same fields at the same time. It's a practice that dates back centuries but is remarkably apt for meeting today’s climate challenges. For Bernard, the switch to rice-fish farming means he no longer has to rely on expensive fertilizers. Bernard says, 

"There is no inorganic fertilizer added, and the rice is still producing." 

Bernard has embraced integrated rice-fish farming with both hands. He’s now the president of a local rice-fish farming and processing organization through which he actively encourages other farmers to adopt the farming method. 

"When farmers approach me, I tell them that the cost of implementing the rice-fish system is not high. It is possible to put a lot of fingerlings into the culture system. You can just add fish to the rice field, and feed in the system through fish without changing the rice field."

The integrated system that Bernard champions is one of the climate resilient farming systems being scaled by the Accelerating Impacts of CGIAR Climate Research for Africa (AICCRA) project in Mali, funded by The World Bank Group's International Development Association (IDA). With the commitment to enhancing access to climate information services and climate-smart agriculture technologies at its core, the program is boosting farmers' ability to anticipate and adapt to climate challenges.

In October 2023, a delegation from WorldFish and AfricaRice, along with other stakeholders in Mali stakeholders, visited Bernard’s farm to see the practical benefits of rice-fish farming on the ground.

Through the integrated rice-fish farm Bernard has in place, organic matter from the fish waste fertilizes the soil, and the rice provides a habitat for the fish, which in turn provides Bernard with an additional revenue stream alongside his rice.

Rodrigue Yossa, WorldFish Senior Scientist and a focal point for WorldFish with AICCRA in Mali, visited Bernard’s farm as part of the AICCRA annual workshop said,

"Seeing the integrated rice-fish system in action reaffirms the power of merging traditional methods with innovative approaches to create practical and context-specific agricultural systems that are both ecologically sound and economically beneficial."

Why Rice-Fish Farming?

A 2021 study using a participatory stakeholder prioritization approach and carried out an organized stakeholder consultation workshop at the local level in Mali to identify and evaluate a range of technologies, practices and services in the four major rice production systems. 

The results of the study, which informed AICCRA’s approach, found that integrated rice-fish system (IntRF) showed a high climate-smart agriculture (CSA) performance score and low implementation feasibility (HCSA – LIF) compared with other CSA identified activities under submergence system, as shown in the graph below. The results of the study indicate integrated rice-fish system in rice production systems designed to cope with temporary flooding (submergence system) are promising technologies and practices to bring to scale.

Evaluating Agricultural Technologies from High to Low Climate-Smart Agriculture (CSA) Performance and Implementation Feasibility. Includes PacSRI, Motorized Tools, Solar Irrigation, and the Integrated Rice-Fish System (IntRF).

Additional finance AICCRA begins in 2024

The AICCRA annual workshop, which convened at the end of October 2023, served as a collaborative platform to discuss the potential and scalability of rice-fish systems across sub-Saharan Africa.

During his opening speech Modibo Sylla, the Director General of the Institute of Rural Economy (DG/IER), pointed out: 

"We're gathered here to explore how Mali can benefit from the integrated rice-fish system."

During the workshop, experts such as Elliott Dossou-Yovo, the AfricaRice Project Lead for AICCRA Mali, and Rodrigue Yossa from WorldFish underscored the significance of these systems. They emphasized the need for practical strategies to expand these innovations and highlighted the importance of multisectoral collaboration between farmers, government bodies, academic and financial institutions, WorldFish and AfricaRice to overcome challenges such as water access, fingerling and feed quality, price and availability, and training gaps.

The announcement made during the workshop on AICCRA's extension from April 2024 promises to amplify the impact of food systems within the region. The project's strategy, which focuses on empowering farmers to adopt climate-resilient approaches through rice-fish production, aims to improve their livelihoods by integrating production of fish into Mali’s existing agricultural practices.

AICCRA’s impact is highlighted by the success of farmers like Bernard Doumbia. With the collaborative efforts of AICCRA Mali and its partners moving into Phase 2 next year, the project promises to reach more farmers affected by the impacts of climate change, and ensure the participation of women and youth from across the region for the large-scale adoption of climate-resilient approaches of integrated rice-fish production.


Wardell David - Strategic Communications Specialist, WorldFish

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