Sustainable agro-aquaculture farming

Deepjyoti Baruah, Ravindra Posti, K. Kunal, P.A. Ganie, D. Sarma and Gyati Rinyo

Integration of rice and fish is a low-cost sustainable practice of Apatani tribes in Arunachal Pradesh providing nutrition and income security to farmer households. Such traditional systems are economically viable and ecologically safe.

The Ziro valley in Arunachal Pradesh at an altitude above 1550 meters of mean sea level and with an advantageous ecological condition makes agriculture as the main source of livelihood in the valley. The region receives a mean rainfall of about 400 mm with an annual temperature ranging from 5°C – 28°C. Apart from rice, the other important crops grown in the valley is comprised of maize, millet, buckwheat, fruits and vegetables. The agro-forestry is mostly comprised of pinewoods and thickets of bamboo. The cool summer weather makes the valley a major destination for tourists from all over the world.

Integrated Rice-Fish terraces of Apatanis

Initially, a field study was conducted in Hong, Hari, Hija, Bula, Dutta, Mudang, Bamin and Old Ziro villages to understand the aquacultural practices of the region. Ziro valley is mostly inhabited by the Apatani tribe and the land is known for its unique and a highly developed ingenious integrated rice and fish farming (locally called Ajii-Ngyii) contributing 59.12% of total land area. The Apatani tribe are mostly agrarian in nature and possess a rich traditional knowledge in efficient water management and sustainable use of the agricultural land and waste products for integrated wet rice-fish systems (Ajii-Ngyii). Women play an important role and share their work equally with men in rice-fish cultivation in these hilly terraces. Also, farmers incur high cost for importing fish seeds from neighbouring state of Assam. The valley being a hill locked area is devoid of a fish seed production unit in the form of a fish hatchery.

Women play an important role and share their work equally with men in rice-fish cultivation in these hilly terraces.

The Apatanis start preparing their rice-fish terraces in the month of November. The left over paddy stems are allowed to decompose on the field itself which later serves as a source of manure. The plots are exposed to sun for drying so that the pests present underneath the soil are destroyed. During December-January, the farmers start ploughing their fields with conventional chopping implements (daos) and spades, without making use of animals, machines or any advanced tools. A sufficient width of 30-70 cm is provided to the dykes, enabling the production of crops such as finger millets and maize.Vegetables such as cucumber, brinjal, tomato, pumpkin, chillies, beans etc., are also raised on the dykes as additional crops. The raising of crops on the dykes also prevents erosion of soil in these water logged terraces of the valley.

The irrigation system in wet rice terraces is unique in the valley. It is basically comprised of a primary channel connected to the main river Kille. The primary channel drains its water to highly webbed feeder channels of the rice-fish terraces. The feeder channels helps in optimizing the usage of water and provide nutrient wash-out to the paddy field from the adjoining catchment areas.The water is equally distributed to each of these terraces with bamboo or wooden made ducts. The ducts installed at a height of 15-25 cm above the bed ensures proper water level of 25-35 cm in the rice-fish plots during the season. The trenches (30-45 cm depth) are most distinctively dug within the rice-fish terraces for facilitating refuge to fish during warmer hours of the day. The trenches are irregularly webbed and occupy 8-12% of the total area in each of rice-fish terraces. The trenches are provided with two outlets (hubur)-one at the surface side to release excess water and the other at the bottom side for drying up of the field water for harvesting the fish. Both the outlets are strictly guarded with bamboo screens to prevent escape of fishes during the culture period. 

Fifteen varieties of the local rice (Oryza sativa Linn.) are reported to be cultivated in the Ziro valley. Transplantation of rice saplings from the nurseries to the prepared terraces are done in the month of April. Finger millets, soya beans, buckwheat, maize, barley are grown on the dykes as additional crops. Vegetables such as cucumber, brinjal, tomato, pumpkin, chilies, radish etc are also grown on the dykes. All these crops are sown in the month of April-May using a wooden made dibbler (damu). Fruits such as kiwi are grown in the adjoining lands if not directly over the dykes. Successive weeding (Ahru-hodo) in rice fields and dykes is carried out by manual labour, using artisanal tools during the growing season.

Fish is reared in one or two batches in a year, depending upon the terrace conditions. The most favoured fish species are the strains of common carp, scientifically known as Cyprinus carpio specularis (Mirror carp), C. carpio communis (Scale carp) and C. carpio nudus (Leather carp) for integration with local rice varieties. Young fishes of 5-8 cm size are stocked in the rice terraces, 10-15 days after paddy transplantation during the months of April-May. These fish also feed on small insects like water beetle, which are harmful to the paddy. Additionally, the fish help in release of fixed nutrients from soil for rice plants owing to its browsing habit. Apart from the common carp, species such as grass carp (Ctenopharyngodon idella), silver carp (Hypophthalmichthys molitrix), Barbonymus gonionotus, Labeo gonius and other Labeo species etc., are also stocked in the plots. The fish get sufficient food in the form of planktons and periphytons, by treating these terraces with manures (cowdung, pig dung, poultry litter and agricultural residues). These reduce the cost incurred on fish feeds, supplemented from outside. Among the different fish species cultivated, the best results in terms of fish growth and survival is observed in common carp fish due to their robust and hardy nature. During weeding in the rice cultivated areas, fishes are guided to the dugout trenches. In the event of low rainfall and hot weather, the stagnant water of the open field becomes warm and the water in deep trenches serve as cool hideouts for the fish.

Harvesting and marketing of rice fish terraces

The fish are usually harvested before harvesting rice from the terraces. Water is first drained out from the rice plots completely. This compels the fish to concentrate in the trenches from where they are caught by hand or by using the traditional bamboo and cane woven gears. Common carp are reported to gain weight up to 300-500g within a span of 3-4 months. However, the farmers start selling the fish when the later attains a weight of 65-80g. The harvested fishes are cleaned in fresh water and are transported to the fish market in bamboo made baskets (Ajii piiwa or Ajii raju). The fish are packed in layers without using any oxygen filled polybags and water. They are mostly sold at the local market in live conditions at Hapoli, the district headquarters of Lower Subansiri. The fishes are kept alive by retaining them in water filled bamboo troughs overlaid with polyline sheet. There is no involvement of middlemen for selling of the farm produce. The live fish are sold at a rate of Rs. 300 per kilogram. The net profit for the farmer is more than 100% in addition to the regular rice harvest.

Paddy is harvested (antee pila or antee dandu) during September-October based on the time of transplanting of rice. The production of rice from rice-fish terraces was found in the range of 10-100 quintal/ha/season depending on the soil fertility. The rice varieties are mostly consumed by the households and hence not sold in the market. Additional crops grown on the dykes such as finger millets, soyabean, maize are harvested during August-September and are used for food in the form of flour and for the preparation of local wine (sarse-o). Similarly, the vegetables are harvested from time to time during July-October. Vegetables are primarily used for household consumption and the surplus is sold in the market.

Some initiatives

Based on the results obtained from the field survey, to strengthen the existing fisheries scenario in the valley and to empower the fish farmers, team of scientists from ICAR-DCFR, Bhimtal took up certain initiatives during 2018-19. Some of the initiatives are: 

As the valley is devoid of a fish seed production unit of its own, farmers buy young fishes from the neighbouring state of Assam incurring high fish seed cost. Therefore, a portable FRP made fish hatchery unit at Hari village was established during 2018, in association with the Department of Fisheries, Government of Arunachal Pradesh and with the cooperation of the Apatani community. The unit was set up under the banner of Gaumco Multipurpose Cooperative Society, led by a women entrepreneur Mrs. Gyati Rinyo. The society was formed in 2014, with an objective of developing agriculture, fisheries and livestock in the rural regions of the district.

An interactive meet was organized at Hari village on 22nd March 2018 on “Fish farming and seed production in cold regions of Arunachal Pradesh”. The meeting which was participated by 200 farmers of the region served as a platform for interactions among farmers, government officers and scientists. In order to encourage the fish farmers, critical input in the form of advanced sized quality fish seeds were distributed free of cost to the farmers for stocking in their rice-fish plots and culture tanks.

This was followed by a skill development programme on “Start-up fish farming, seed production and hatchery management for hill farmers of Ziro valley, Arunachal Pradesh” during 20-24 May 2018 at Pabhoi Fish Farm, in Biswanath district, Assam. Five members of the society were imparted skills on broodstock management, hatchery operation, fish seed production, transportation and marketing. Also, knowledge on nursery management practices and fish seed raising was imparted to the members of the society. In addition, ICAR-DCFR, Bhimtal supported the society financially and technically in constructing four earthen nurseries and one broodstock pond within the premises of FRP fish hatchery. This enabled farmers in stocking different sized and species of fish seeds produced from the hatchery unit. 

The aquatic environment in rice terraces is much influenced by water quality flowing through the connecting feeder channels. In order to understand the water quality and the fish food diversity, water was collected from the feeder channels and rice-fish terraces and analysed. It was observed that the rice-fish plots are rich in phytoplankton viz., Spirogyra (12-47%), Oocytis (40%), Navicula (5-14%), Pinnularia (6-13%), Nitzschia (13%), Ulothrix (13%), Closterium (13%), Stigeoclonium (11%) and Ankyra (7%). The zooplankton studies revealed that the copepods (11-90%) dominated the rice fish plots followed by Cladoceron (5-25%).

Farm advisory and technical guidance was also provided to the farmers from time to time by visiting the actual sites. For example, farm advisory was given to the rice-fish growers to deepen the trenches upto 90 cm and construct at the periphery of the rice-fish plots for better fish survival (more than 95%) with higher stocking density and ease of harvesting. By developing the deeper lateral trenches, the stocking density of fish fingerlings was raised from 1-2  to 4-5 per square meter area.


Integration of rice and fish is a low-cost sustainable practice for the rural mass to obtain high value protein, nutritional security and income from a unit area. Rice-fish farming reduces the usage of fertilizer, pesticides and herbicides in the rice field and zero input of artificial feed to fish. Such reduction of input costs lower farmer’s economic load to more than 50 percent and simultaneously doubles their additional income from fish sale. Having such additional income, the net productivity from rice-fish integrated farming is observed to be much higher than monoculture of rice alone in the valley. Moreover, establishment of a private fish seed hatchery in the Ziro valley resulted in easy availability of quality fish seeds. Further, empowering women with the skills of fish seed production and fish hatchery management has led to enhancement of farm productivity through fish seed trade. However, there is still a need for a hygienic fish market with cold storage transportation facility.


The authors are very much grateful to the Nodal Officer(s) of NEH activity, in-charge PME and scientific staffs of ICAR-DCFR, Bhimtal for the help and support rendered in carrying out R&D programmes successfully. The information gathered from rice-fish farmers, state Fishery Officers and scientists of KVK Lower Subansiri is highly acknowledged.


Baruah D & Singh ND., Rice-fish cultivation of Apatanis: A high altitude farming system in Arunachal Pradesh, 2018, Journal of Krishi Vigyan, 7(1), pp. 187-191.

Halwart M and Gupta MV., Culture of fish in rice fields, 2004, FAO and The World Fish Center, pp.1-77

IRRI, Rice research in a time of change, 1993, IRRI, Los Banos, Laguna, Philippines 


Deepjyoti Baruah, Ravindra Posti, K. Kunal, P.A. Ganie, D. Sarma

ICAR-Directorate of Coldwater Fisheries Research

Bhimtal-263136, Nainital, Uttarakhand

Gyati Rinyo

Gaumco Multipurpose Cooperative Society

Lower Subansiri district, Hapoli-791120

Arunachal Pradesh



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