Integrated farming in small holder farms for livelihood and nutritional security

Farmers of coastal Tamil Nadu are compelled to grow rice despite its low returns, as rice alone has the unique feature of withstanding water stagnation for a longer period of time. Integrating fish culture and poultry rearing in rice helped farmers in 3 coastal districts in Tamil Nadu to double their income and enhance the nutritional status of their families.

Rice based farming systems are the main economic activities of millions of rural poor in Asia, Africa and Latin America. Asia alone has 200 million rice farms smaller than 1 ha, accounting for 90% of world Rice production. However, rice had always been a compulsory crop rather than an optional one for the farmers of the coastal rice tracts and wetlands all over Asia.  This is because the whole of the tracts are depending on monsoon rains as the main source of irrigation, wherein the distribution of rainfall is irregular with heavy down pour during a particular and shorter period of the year leading to inundation and flooding.  Further, drainage of water into the sea also becomes difficult during these periods as the sea backlashes with heavy tidal incursions.  Added to this situation, most of these rice tracts have heavy textured soil types, making percolation of water difficult.  All these result in stagnation of water during the cropping seasons of these tract.  Among the choice of crops for cultivation, rice alone has the unique feature of withstanding water stagnation for a longer period, whereas all other crops will perish within a very shorter period of water stagnation.  Thereby, the farmers of these regions are compelled to grow rice during the cropping seasons, in spite of the fact that the economic margin from rice grown is very little and even inadequate to support their livelihood. Inadequate livelihood, enforces on these small holder women farmers, malnourishment, low birth weight and child wasting. The constraints therefore identified are monsoon dependent crop seasons with ill-distributed rainfall; frequent inundation or drought and crop failure; marginal returns from rice; lack of diversification of enterprises and poor economic status, under nourishment and migration to urban centres.

Human requirements for protein are estimated to be 55 g per day for adult man and 45 g per day for woman at normal health conditions. The qualities of protein from animal sources compare better than plant sources interms of Net Protein Utilization (NPU) around 0.75 as against many of plant sources that have NPU around 0.5 to 0.6. The value of meat is that, it has a concentrated source of high quality protein (NPU), highly digestible (about 0.95 compared to 0.8 – 0.9 with many plant sources) and provides surplus of one essential amino acid Lysine which is inadequate in most cereals. By 2050, an extended world population would consume two thirds more animal protein that it does today (FAO 2017). Poultry meat is the key player of growth in total meat production in response to increasing global demand, by virtue of lower production cost making it a more affordable protein (OECD, 2016).

In this background, an appropriate design of an integrated farming system with a judicious mix of crop and animal components as a resource management strategy would be the best approach to address this issue. Besides, this IFS design would also augment household diet diversity and nutritional standards of resource poor farmers.

Integrated rice, fish and poultry farming system

The salient features of a conventional Rice + Fish + Poultry system as demonstrated until now are,

  • In one acre rice field, 90 cents rice area is left undisturbed and 10 cents is excavated as a fish pond without any rice crop.
  • A poultry cage is installed in the fish pond and the fish component and poultry component do not directly integrate with rice. The poultry manure needs to be collected at the end of the season after draining the pond for application to rice field which is laborious.
  • Mostly layer birds are raised in the poultry cages.

 With integration, fishes help in pest and weed control in rice, poultry compliments rice with slow paced addition of nutrient rich organic matter

In the Rice + Fish + Poultry system demonstrated and upscaled by Annamalai University here in after termed as Annamalai Rice + Fish + Poultry system, the salient features of difference are as listed below:

  • The poultry cages are installed directly in the rice field with the help of four concrete posts 8′ high, 4′ buried inside and 4′ protruding above, that lifts the cage above the crop canopy. The cage bottom is of wire mesh, that leaves the poultry waste to reach the rice fields below, wherein they get dissolved in standing water and serve both as a crop manure as well as fish feed.
  • The fish trenches that accommodate the fishes, as a permanent shelter are 1m deep and posses a width of 1 m at the top and 0.75 m at the bottom and they run along the side of the rice field, occupying 10 per cent of the rice fields. The fish fingerlings as a polyculture with Catla, Rogu, Mrigal and Common Carp in equal proportions of a stocking density of 5000 fingerlings ha-1 (100 fingerlings for every 200 m2 plot considering the rice field dimension and not the trench dimension) are released after 15 days of transplanting rice seedlings. They swim into the rice fields and feed on the pests and weeds during morning and evening hours and take shelter in the trench during day time with sunny weather to avoid temperature fluctuation of shallow water column standing in the rice field.
  • The poultry cage dimension and poultry stocking density are optimized through rigorous experimentation. Cages are of dimension 6′ x 4′ x 3′ accommodating 20 broiler birds in each cage. Larger cages hamper crop growth because of shading and higher stocking density could harm the crop by increased volume of poultry litter per unit area that are acidic in nature.
  • This way, a perfect integration of all the three components, with fishes helping pest and weed control in rice, poultry complimenting rice with slow paced addition of nutrient rich organic matter up to 8.5 t ha-1 in every crop season and weed control by acidic nature of the litter as well as allelomediatory principle, is evolved in this design.
  • Further, three generations of broiler birds within one rice cropping season, offers excellent revenue generation that enhances livelihood security of resource poor farmers. In case of natural calamities such as flash floods or drought wherein the crop could totally be damaged, this broiler meat output would offer solace and serve as a climate resilience mechanism.

Table 1: Livelihood enhancement in wetland clusters

Particulars Villupuram Cuddalore Nagapattinam Weighted mean of the three districts
No. of poultry bird rearing 7 5 5 5
Average meat yield/bird (kg) 2.40 2.50 2.10 2.3
Average meat yield/household (kg) 336 250 210 2.65
Cost of meat Rs. /kg 100 110 90 100
Gross return from poultry (Rs.) 33,600 27,500 18,900 26,666
Cost of production of poultry bird (Rs.) 9,900 5,700 7,100 7,566
No. of Fish rearing 2 1 1 1
Fish yield/ household (kg) 120 75 75 90
Fish cost Rs. /kg 70 90 80 80
Gross return from fish (Rs.) 8,400 6,750 6,000 7,050
Cost of production of fish (Rs.) 900 500 500 633
Total net return, household / year (Rs.) 31,200 28,050 17,300 25,516
Livelihood enhancement (%) 98 88 54 80

Participatory research and upscaling

This farming system design was upscaled through a World Bank – Indian Council of Agricultural Research funded National Agricultural Project (NAIP), with the main objective of enhancing the sustainable rural livelihoods in the state of Tamil Nadu in India. The Annamalai Rice + Fish + Poultry Farming System design was disseminated for adoption in 200 m2 of rice area in each of the 838 farmers holdings. The target area for participatory research included three districts of Tamil Nadu State in Southern India, namely Cuddalore, Villupuram and Nagapattinam. Each district with a cluster including three villages and 100 participating small and marginal farmers, were organized. The cost of infrastructure for the farming system design Viz., poultry cages, concrete posts, fish trenches, chicks, chick feed, fish fingerlings, goat and apiary cages were met from the project funds.

Later during 2015 – 16, the impact of these models on the nutritional impact of farming households were traced in a new cluster for wetland model comprising 75 farming households through a Biotechnology industry Research Assistance Council (BIRAC in collaboration with Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation) funded Grand Challenges India, Project. The impact assessment on sustainability and livelihoods were done by Annamalai University and M/S. Price Water House Cooper, Kolkata, India. The impact on nutritional status and diet diversification of farming households were done by M/S. Sathguru Consultants, Hyderabad, India.

Impact on livelihoods and farm production

The baseline survey of the project indicated that the gross household annual income in Wetland clusters is Rs.31,822.11. Increases in income for these three districts through the adoption of Rice + Fish + Poultry farming are presented in Table 1. The increase in Gross household income in Villupuram district is Rs.31,200 which is accounting for 98 per cent, the highest, as the number of broiler rearing spread over three crops of rice is seven. The increase in gross household income in Cuddalore district is Rs.28,050, that contributes only 88 per cent increase. This is because of the fact that water availability in the wetland cluster of this district does not permit more than one crop and hence, only four broiler rearings are possible. However, the farmers are enthusiastic about the intervention as is evident from one broiler rearing that extended outside the three that are possible during the single crop of rice. The increase in gross household income is the least at Rs.17,300 that makes only 54 per cent increase with in an year, in Nagapattinam district. Though two crops of rice are grown and poultry rearings for five generations are taken up, the meat yield and market prices are comparatively lower than that experienced at Cuddalore.

Addition of poultry manure in five cents of rice area has added nutrients more than the quantity that could have been possible through the normally recommended dose of Farm Yard Manure. Higher nutrient addition through poultry manure compared to other organic sources in rice is already observed in institutional and on-farm experiments. Pest incidence in rice is also reduced due to integration of the fish culture and poultry components, owing to the feeding habits of fishes that suppresses the egg masses, larvae and alternate weed hosts of pests. Productive employment generation was also seen with this technology, with 219 mandays/year/household of additional employment generation.

The striking success of this Rice + Fish + Poultry farming system has made 392 other farmers (other than the 838 identified development partners) to adopt this in their holdings. Further 12 of the identified development partners have been extending the technology from the project supported 200 m2 area to half an acre (2000 m2) of their holdings.

This intervention spread through 3 villages during 2015-16, resulted in the production of 9,000 kg of broiler meat and 2,250 kg of fish meat. This was reflected in the increased poultry meat intake of 4 kg/ month by the participating farming households from the baseline value of 2.8 kg/month (Table 2). The fish meat intake also showed an increase with 4 kg/month from 0.5 kg/month of baseline value. The blood haemoglobin count of the development Partner or beneficiary of wetland cluster increased from 11.7 gm/dl to 13.9 gm/, folic acid level from 7.61 ng/mL to 8.76 ng/mL, serum albumin from 4.20 gm/dl to 4.87 gm/dl, calcium level from 9.4 to 10.05, globulin from 1.94 gm/dl to 2.79 gm/dl (sampled from an average of 10 beneficiary women farmers).

 Table 2: Impact on Human Nutrition

Intervention Consumption of Animal Protein
  Before Intervention After Intervention
Annamalai Rice + Fish + Poultry Poultry meat 2.8 kg / Month 4.00 kg/ Month
Fish meat 0.5 kg/ Month 4.00 kg/ Month
Annamalai Rice + Fish + Poultry Nutritional Parameters
Blood Bio chemical Before Intervention After


Blood hemoglobin 11.7 g/dl 13.9 g/dl
Serum Albumin 4.20 g/dl 4.87 g/dl
Serum Globulin 1.94 g/dl 2.79 g/dl
Folic Acid 7.61 ng/ml 7.61 ng/ml
Blood Calcium level 9.4 10.05
Child Anthropometry
BMI 13.9 19.5
Weight 15 kg 20 kg


Integrating fish culture and poultry rearing in rice as in Annamalai Rice + Fish + Poultry farming system helps to double the farmers income and enhances the nutritional status of the farming households. The models could be up scaled in all the rice growing regions of the world with transplanted and wetland mode of cultivation of rice, predominated by small holder farms.


 The funding support from NAIP-ICAR and BIRAC Grand Challenges India Agriculture and Nutrition are gratefully acknowledged.


FAO, 2017. Meat and meat products in human nutrition in developing countries. FAO corporate document Repository. .

OECD, 2016. ‘Meat’ in OECD – FAO Agricultural outlook 2016 – 2025, OECD publishing, Paris.

Kathiresan Ramanathan

Kathiresan Ramanathan

Professor of Agronomy (Retd.)

Faculty of Agriculture

Annamalai University

Tamilnadu, India – 608 002.

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