Hajia Fatima Aliu with fish harvested from her rice-fish site. / Photo Credit: Yahya Abubakar, University of Ibadan
Severe weather events like flooding, drought and rising temperatures disproportionately affect many Nigerian fishing and farming communities given the naturally arid conditions of their environment.
In 2021, local farmers in northwestern Nigeria experienced a delay in rainfall which reduced over 65 percent of their harvest. When the rains did come, it flooded the fields resulting in a total loss of crop. Hajia Fatima Aliu was devastated by this.
Wanting to find solutions to protect her livelihood, Aliu is one of 200 local farmers working with the Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Fish. Aliu is participating in an integrated rice-fish farming project in collaboration with FAO, the University of Ibadan and the University of Georgia. Through the project, Aliu is working to increase her yields and sustain crops through severe climate events.
The project is introducing farmers like Aliu to a new but simple approach to farming – growing rice and fish in the same aquatic ecosystem, like a rice paddy. By taking this approach, Aliu is not only reducing the amount of greenhouse gasses that come from her farm, but also building food supply and boosting nutrition for her community. The project, which established six on-farm adaptive research plots, is sharing these techniques and their findings to Aliu’s local community. With this knowledge, Aliu is now thriving.
As a driven entrepreneur and mentor to other women farmers in her community, Aliu has made herself into a model farmer for integrated rice-fish farming.
“I began rice-fish farming because my farm is my business. I eat better at home and make money by selling my crops which assists my livelihood,” says Aliu.
Why Rice-Fish Farming?
Integrated rice-fish farming allows farmers like Aliu to adapt to a changing climate, but also mitigate the emissions that come from a farm. Because when rice and fish are grown in the same environment, the relationship is symbiotic.
Throughout their lifespan, fish produce waste containing ammonia emissions like nitrates, potassium and phosphorus. These elements can help plants grow, but can harm the environment if not disposed of properly.
However in rice-fish farming, the rice uses the fish waste as a natural fertilizer to grow. This keeps the nitrates, potassium and phosphorus from being released into the environment and prevents a process called eutrophication – when an ecosystem is too rich in nutrients for plants and lacks oxygen for animals to grow. By collecting water along the way, the rice-fish farm combats drought and irregular rainfall becoming common in Kebbi State.
In the end, Aliu produces two crops at the same time – fish and rice – which allows her to increase her income and uplift her family, all while minimizing the damage to the environment and staying resilient to the effects of climate change.
Rice-fish farming is a great example of combining the best of local farming knowledge with the latest scientific discoveries. Through Feed the Future, Aliu is applying climate-smart agriculture, and reducing her use of chemical fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides.
Rice-fish adaptive research plot in Nigeria / Photo Credit: Oladeji Kazeem Kareem
Plotting the Future
Aliu began her personal rice farm five years ago. She joined the rice-fish farming project in 2020 to help her family eat and live better. Rice is a staple food in her community and by combining rice farming with fish, she now earns more and is able to provide nourishing food for her family.
Aliu is giving back to her community by sharing what she’s learned. By teaching her neighbors and friends about rice-fish farming and the results she’s made, she hopes other women and families can benefit.
“I’ve benefited from seeing this new [rice-fish] technology and my group members have learned how to go about the production,” she said. “With patience, they will benefit in the future from it.”