Koustov Kumar Goswami
(The writer is M. Sc student of Fisheries Science. West Bengal University of Animal and Fishery Sciences. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)
In Assam, rice is a major crop and the staple food for almost all households. It has been observed that depending on paddy and fish cultivation, various cultivating cultures are evolving. Among the most popular cultures and a highly beneficial practice for rural farmers is paddy-cum-fish cultivation. It is the culture of fish in paddy fields. By using the same cultivated land where rice is the primary means of enterprise, fishes are taken as an extra income. The majority of farmers in Assam are suffering from low income source. Therefore, paddy-cum-fish farming gives an opportunity to increase their productivity and provides a reliable source of protein for the families of the peasants.
An initial step to carry out the technique of paddy-cum-fish farming is land preparation. These include creating a pond or ditch of 3-4 feet at the lowest side of the land and raising a dyke of minimum 2 feet height above the local flooding height. Apart from that, two ponds can also be excavated at two different sides of the plot. In one-hectare paddy land, a farmer can excavate two ponds in the lowest side of the land and connect them with the paddy fields for free movement of fish through the whole area. The canal should be made along the periphery of the land and connected with the pond. Liming should be done in the small ponds as well as in the cannels of paddy field at a rate of 150-200kg/ha. Specially designed outlets and inlets are to be provided for maintenance of water balance during the rearing period. The inlets and outlets are guarded by bamboo splits to prevent weed, fish and aquatic predators from entering into paddy fields and prevent escape of the stock fish. After completion of all these steps, organic manure (at 30 t/ ha on a basal dose) and inorganic fertilizer (nitrogen and potassium at 60 kg/ha) should be applied.
After preparing the paddy plot, deep water variety of paddy must be selected for cultivation. With the onset of monsoon, water will start accumulating first in the canal and then it will spread over the paddy plot. No pesticide is to be sprayed during kharif cultivation due to the presence of fish in the system. Farmers can grow Ahu, Bao or Sali varieties like Ranjit, Bahadur and Jaimati. Other varieties like Jaya, Panjab joha and Pankaj are also effective. On the bunds, vegetables, areca nut, banana, agro forestry plant and flowering plants can also be grown. Banana and papaya cultivation can also be profitable options for farmers.
After 10-15 days of paddy cultivation, stocking of fishes can be done. For fish culture, fingerlings at the stocking density of 2000/ha are suitable. In Assam, many progressive fish farmers normally produce adequate size of fish seeds by rearing them in small-size ponds for a period of about 1-2 months and then selling them off to other farmers to be grown in paddy fields. Species such as Rohu, Bahu, Tilapia, Magur, Hol, Haal, Hingi have been widely cultured in rice fields. Other varieties such as common carp, silver carp, Puthi, freshwater prawn like rosenbergii can also be cultured in paddy fields. The water depth of the rice plot may vary from 5 – 25 cm depending on the type of rice and the size and species of fish to be cultured. The fishes are provided with supplementary food consisting of rice bran and groundnut oil cake in the ratio 1:1 at 5% body weight of fishes in paddy-cum-carp culture. In paddy-cum-air breathing fish culture (Hingi, Magur, Haal and Hol), a mixture of fish meal and rice bran in the ratio 1:2 should be provided at the rate of 5% body weight of fishes. At the time of harvesting, first the water is drained out through the outlet pipe; then water is accumulated in the mid-channel of the paddy field while the fishes are released there. As a result, the fishes can be easily caught by hand picking or by using a bamboo-made basket. Paddy harvesting is followed by fish harvesting. The average fish yield from this integrated system is about 500-800 kg/ha depending on the supplementary feeding and duration of culture.
The significant aspect of paddy-cum-fish culture is that it also serves as an excellent agent for integrated pest and weed management. It further increases the soil productivity and boosts the production of paddy. After monsoon, naturally the paddy fields of Assam are filled with wild and indigenous fish species. So if the paddy farmers of Assam can give a little extra effort on cultivating fishes; they can earn the extra income. This practice can definitely help in the uplift of the socio-economic condition of paddy farmers as a whole.