Cultivating fishes with paddy: A new recipe for farm prosperity in Maharashtra

Parthasarathi Biswas
Not dependent on paddy alone: A farmer with his second crop. (Express)

Two years ago when Dulichand Patle, a paddy grower from the Bihiriya village of Gondia, thought of taking up a second crop along with his staple paddy, the choices before him were limited. Gondia is known as the rice city, thanks to the many rice mills surrounding it, and paddy was, for most, the only choice. But then something changed.

“It was the local agriculture officer (at that time) who suggested that I try farming fish in the paddy field," says Patle, who saw promise in the idea. "I invested around Rs 1 lakh on fingerlings (12-15 cm long fishes which are released as seeds for rearing) and in around 9 months my net profit was around Rs 3 lakh just by selling the fish,” he says. This income was in addition to the income that Patle made by selling the paddy crop. Buoyed up by his experience, Patle, who grows paddy on 3 of his 7 acres farm, introduced fingerlings in 2 acres of his paddy field this year.

Cultivated over 15.02 lakh hectares, paddy is an important crop in the six districts of Nagpur division (the districts of Nagpur, Gondia, Gadchiroli, Chandrapur, Bhandara and Wardha), which alone reports 50 per cent of the state’s paddy area. Water is integral to paddy cultivation, and farmers like Patle often divert portions of their fields to make farm ponds (Bodi in the local dialect) to preserve water and flood the growing paddy crop. The water-intensive nature of paddy and the requirement of the fields to remain flooded for the better part of 8 to 9 months limits the opportunity for a second crop in between the rows of paddy.


How fish rearing helps farmers

Doubling farmers incomes by 2023 is a stated goal of the government, but this goal threatens to turn elusive with each passing year. The scheme in Vidharba, which is often in news for farmer woes, that enables paddy farmers to cultivate fishes in their flooded fields and nearby ponds has not only raised incomes but also provided an example of how to double farm incomes

But, as it turned out, this very nature of the crop makes it most suitable for cultivation of fishes.

For the past two years, the state agriculture department has been promoting this combination — fishes on paddy fields — as the means of augmenting of farm incomes. Other than the fields, farm ponds, where farmers store water to irrigate their fields during times of scarcity, too have been used for fish cultivation. What has further enthused farmers is that the state government has been providing an upfront monetary benefit of Rs 50,000 for the construction of farm ponds. Till the end of the 2018-19 financial year, Maharashtra had seen the construction of 1.2 lakh such ponds.

On average, for an investment of around Rs 1 lakh, a farmer reports a net profit of Rs 3 lakh (see box). “The best part of the deal is that traders come to our fields to weigh the fish and take it ... we don't even have to spend on transport,” says Patle.

No wonder the popularity of the combination is spreading. Anant Pote, District Superintendent Agriculture Officer (DSAO) of Gadchiroli district says his office has been popularising fish cultivation as well.

While some farmers use their field ponds to farm fish others directly use the paddy fields to cultivate fish as the second crop. “In the latter case, a deep trench is dug on one side of the paddy field and fingerlings are released there. During the life cycle of the paddy crop, the fish fleet move from the trench across the paddy fields, feeding on the insects and when the water is drained the fleet returns to the trench from where it is harvested,” explained Pote.

In both cases, farmers have to invest in fingerlings, fish feed and labour to harvest. Gadchiroli has already reported the construction of 6,500 ponds, of which around 500 ponds have started cultivation of fish. Similarly, of the 1 lakh hectares of paddy cultivation, around 10-15 per cent have taken up cultivation of fish. “Seeing the success of the scheme, many other farmers are coming forward to go for the scheme,” he said.

The dual cultivation has caught the imagination of many farmers, especially given the tangible gains from the project. Mangesh Wawdhane, taluka agriculture officer of Tiroda says cultivation of fish has started on around 50 of the 372 farm ponds in the area. “Farmers are enthusiastic about the scheme,” he says.