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Fishing for prosperity

By Ma Zhenhuan| China Daily| Updated: July 11, 2022 L M S


Farmers in Qingtian county, Zhejiang province plant rice in the paddy fields. [Photo provided to China Daily]

Long history of aqua-farming hooks villages to a greater income, Ma Zhenhuan reports in Hangzhou.

Wu Lizhen used to make a living by fishing along with her husband in Longxian village, Lishui, East China's Zhejiang province. The villagers relied on their catch to eke out a living in the past.

But Wu's life began to take a major turn on the road to progress in June 2005, when she was selected to represent the fishermen and women of Fangshan township in Qingtian county, where the village is, at an expert seminar of the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

Then, she started to receive training and support, and began a project in which she planted rice, raised fish, and made delicious dishes to attract tourists.

A few years later, this model based on rice-fish farming provides Wu's family a good, stable income on top of income from the yields. Her business income annually now is more than 1 million yuan ($150,000).

"I came back from France and worked as a farmer for 15 years," says Jin Yuepin, chairman of Zhejiang Fangyuan Ecological Agriculture Development Co Ltd, who received a Model Farmers award by the FAO in 2014 for his contribution to producing safe and green fish food, increasing villagers' incomes, and inheriting traditional agriculture.


Fish are the theme of folk songs, dances and festival celebrations in Qingtian. [Photo provided to China Daily]

From being a manager in a restaurant overseas and a Chinese returnee to becoming a village official and an agricultural specialist, Jin has devoted himself to the welfare of villagers and starting them on the road to common prosperity.

Jin, a pioneer of aquaculture in rice paddies in the county, says mountainside villagers in his hometown plow and weed paddy fields with the same attention to detail as required in carving jade.

"Rice-fish farming in Qingtian is a typical way of ecological agricultural production," Jin adds.

This rice-fish aquaculture system has fed local people for more than 1,300 years, he says.

Fish are raised in rice paddies, saving space and labor so farmers can produce more crops and fish, while rice can also provide the shade and bait for fish.

Jin says the rice grown in this way has high nutritional value while the fish are soft and delicious to eat.

Songshuxia, Jin's native village in Fangshan, covers an area of 3.86 square kilometers, with a registered population of more than 1,725 people, of which 370 people live in the village. Nearly 90 percent are elderly.


Fish are the theme of folk songs, dances and festival celebrations in Qingtian. [Photo provided to China Daily]

In the past, the villagers had no other income except for raising fish due to the remote location. In 2016, Jin started a project to develop rice-fish farming, which trains more than 100 locals, especially older people, and gives them technical support.

Fish larvae are also provided. The villagers are responsible for raising fish, and Jin purchases fresh fish and other agricultural products and sells them in the market outside.

"No chemical fertilizers and pesticides are allowed here," Jin says, adding that the rice in Qingtian is good food for the fish, and the fish in turn fertilize the soil for the rice that is tasty and glutinous.

Jin has designed the outer packaging and logo of the fish products, applied for certification, and invented a portable vacuum bag that can effectively extend the lives of fish to over 100 hours since they were caught. Fresh fish are put into the bags filled with water and transported to the airport in Shanghai by a truck equipped with an oxygen pump. Then the fish are exported to Spain and Italy.

In 2021, the symbiotic aquaculture system in Qingtian produced an average rice yield of 480 kilograms per 0.07 hectare, and the total output value of rice and fish reached 265 million yuan.

Wu and Jin are just two of a growing number of rural residents in Fangshan who are benefiting from aquaculture, as well as the measures to protect the agricultural heritage of the country.

In 2005, the aquaculture system in Qingtian was designated by the FAO as one of the first batches of the "globally important agricultural heritage "protection pilots.


Fish are the theme of folk songs, dances and festival celebrations in Qingtian but two buffaloes show that there are other aspects to agriculture. [Photo provided to China Daily]

"The protection of agricultural heritage depends on local farmers, so it is necessary to make them culturally confident and conscious, so that they are willing to protect the culture," says Min Qingwen, a researcher at the Institute of Geographic Sciences and Natural Resources Research, Chinese Academy of Sciences.

"They can be supported by policies, technological assistance and market development, so that they can truly benefit from agriculture."

Maria Helena Semedo, FAO deputy director-general, says: "The agricultural heritage with global importance has demonstrated its enormous potential for sustainable agricultural models through the approaches of ecological agriculture. Taking advantage of the original characteristics of agricultural systems can inject new vitality into rural areas and promote rural development."

A Qingtian rice-fish museum, covering 4,057 square meters, is under construction in Fangshan.

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