Unlocking the potential of rice field ponds for rural communities in Cambodia

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Rice field fisheries have long been an essential part of Cambodia’s rural landscape, providing crucial sustenance and income to millions of people. With this, the CGIAR Initiative on Asian Mega-Deltas (AMD) has been leading the charge in conducting transformative experiments aimed at harnessing the potential of rice field ponds to improve the livelihoods of rural communities and contribute to sustainable development.

AMD’s Work Package 1 (WP1), focusing on adapting deltaic production systems, seeks to facilitate the scaling of innovation to support resilient, diversified deltaic production systems and reduce environmental footprints and climatic risks. Central to these efforts is the development of Community Fish Refuges (CFRs), which play a vital role in protecting wild fish and providing abundant habitats for fish to breed and thrive.

In collaboration with stakeholders, the Fisheries Administration (FiA) supported the establishment of 183 CFRs in the Mekong Delta in Cambodia, leading to a notable increase in rice field fisheries production. These fisheries have provided substantial yields, comprising 104 ± 16.0 kg ha−1 yr−1 of finfish catch and 34 ± 7.7 kg ha−1 yr−1 of other aquatic animal catch, thereby making significant contributions to the rural economy.

Recognizing the potential of rice field ponds in complementing CFRs, AMD-WP1 has embarked on an insightful experiment to unlock the latent benefits of these ponds. The experiment aims to identify the fish yield, income, and nutrient contributions for rural communities, while introducing and demonstrating climate-resilient technologies to enhance fisheries and paddy yield. This experiment also seeks to assess the survival rate and weight gain of fish stocked during the dry season, thereby promoting sustainable practices in rural aquaculture.

The experiment incorporates two distinct production systems – rice crop and rice-field fisheries (rice field ponds). Nine farmers involved in the rice field pond trial were selected from households with existing rice field ponds influenced by the CFR, highlighting the collaborative and community-centric nature of this initiative.

The introduction of wild snakehead, climbing perch, and walking catfish into the ponds at a density of 0.5 fish/m2 serves as a testament to the thorough community consultation and the commitment to ecological sustainability.

By leveraging the natural environment and engaging rural communities, the AMD-WP1’s experiment holds the promise of not only enhancing fish production and rural incomes but also fostering climate-resilient agri-aquaculture practices. It symbolizes a forward-looking approach towards sustainable development, one that rests on the principles of inclusivity, environmental stewardship, and community empowerment.

As the experiment continues to unfold, AMD aims to generate critical insights that can inform policies and practices, thereby ensuring the sustainable transformation of rice field ponds into vibrant hubs of economic activity and ecological richness.

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