Sustainable rice-fish management in Cambodia helps improve nutrition and livelihoods
Research conducted by the CGIAR Research Program on Fish Agri-food Systems (FISH) is contributing to the Feed the Future Cambodia Rice Field Fisheries II project, which aims to improve nutrition outcomes and climate resilience through the sustainable management of rice field fisheries.
The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID)-funded Feed the Future Cambodia Rice Field Fisheries II project has shown that well-managed community fish refuges (CFRs) can significantly improve the fish productivity of rice field environments. By producing high-value rice and fish in comanaged CFRs, the project aims to increase consumption of highly nutritious foods in malnourished areas. In addition to addressing multiple causes of malnutrition, the initiative also strives to improve resilience to climate change by protecting fish habitats and creating secure drinking and irrigation water.
A FISH-supported community fish refuge management intervention in Cambodia aims to improve nutrition outcomes, protect water for drinking and irrigation, and build resilience to climate change.
CFRs are natural or humanmade ponds that hold water throughout the year and provide a dry season refuge for brood fish. In the dry season, these refuges become disconnected from permanent natural water bodies. In the wet season, fish migrate from the CFRs to the rice fields and floodplains to spawn and feed. CFRs can provide protection from drought conditions by safeguarding fish habitats and populations when there is less rice field flooding.
The Rice Field Fisheries II project has supported the registration of 53 new CFRs with the government and more than 2,000 interventions of various types to improve the conditions and management of CFRs. Biophysical conditions have improved in 481 hectares of CFR areas and rice field environments.
As a result of the initiative, the total productivity of rice field fisheries increased by 5 kg/ha/year, despite two consecutive years of drought in 2019 and 2020. Of the project-supported CFRs, 80% had a higher biomass of fish during at least one survey in 2020.
A major project priority is ensuring that children have enough nutritious food to eat, because malnutrition and micronutrient deficiencies in childhood can cause long-term issues with physical and cognitive development. FISH research shows that widespread adoption of improved management for rice-fish systems contributes to sustainable and nutrition-sensitive food systems in Cambodia.
FISH research shows that widespread adoption of improved management for rice-fish systems contributes to sustainable and nutrition-sensitive food systems in Cambodia.
Nutrition-specific activities that accompanied the conservation strategy have improved knowledge and practices, reflecting positive outcomes from caregiver training and awareness-raising in communities and schools. The project’s nutrition-sensitive interventions reached 20,915 children under the age of five, 49% of whom were girls. In addition, the percentage of children meeting World Health Organization’s (WHO’s) recommendations for dietary diversity increased from 47% in 2018 to 54% in 2021.
Among adult beneficiaries, 43% of women of reproductive age were found to consume a diet of minimum diversity. As a result of the project, 213,138 people, 51% of whom were female, consumed more fish at home. In addition, 120,483 people and 101 schools and health centers gained access to basic water services through the initiative’s support for drinking water stations.
In addition to improving nutrition, the CFR management intervention also improves the overall livelihoods of beneficiaries. Sustainable rice-field fisheries contributed to improved economic benefits for more than 365,045 people, 135,670 of whom were women.
Sustainable rice-field fisheries contributed to improved economic benefits for more than 365,045 people, including 135,670 women.
Monitoring shows that people involved with CFRs experienced increasing benefits through good management practices, leading to steady fish stocks and improved nutrition. Although the average household fish catch declined by 8%, the average value of fish caught increased by 70%. The average quantity of fish sold increased by 80%, and cash income from selling fish increased by 232%.
The project also helped CFR committees to obtain local support to finance 4,218 activities and raise US$302,915 in funds from donations and fundraising events. As a result of capacity building with CFR committees, the average score of CFR governance capacity increased from 1.9 in 2016 to 4.2 in 2021.