Backyard fish farm – an answer to food insecurity in rural areas

Backyard fish pond
Mr. Say Sorn, in the background, and his wife, Yi Sinuon, in the background, feed fish they raise in the backyard of their house in Siem Reap province. (Photo: UNDP Cambodia)

SIEM REAP – In the past when he needed fish for his wife to cook food, Mr. Say Sorn would fetch a net to cast in the canal in his village. These days he can just get it right from his backyard – a landscape occupied by a giant water filtration tank, hatching containers, and 12 fish ponds holding altogether about three tons of fish.

Welcome to Mr. Say Sorn’s fish farm – a positive model of how family fish breeding like his can help ensure food security for the rural population in Cambodia.


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Say Sorn got into this venture six years ago out of a simple awareness that fish stock is dwindling in the Cambodian river systems. The reasons, he said, are the increase in the country’s population and illegal methods used by many fishermen in their trade.

“My fear is that there may not be many fish left in the river to catch in the future,” Say Sorn said while feeding his fish one recent afternoon.

The 73-year-old man used to earn a living from repairing motorcycles in his village about 15 kilometers west of Siem Reap provincial town. And part of his responsibility as a breadwinner was to go catch fish – the main source of protein for Cambodians – for his wife to cook. “More and more I was able to make little catch. There were days when I couldn’t catch any fish at all,” he said.

Initially he knew nothing about raising fish. What he did was buy fingerlings from a local market to release into a pond at home. But none of them survived because the water was too murky. “I thought they would grow up just as any fish in any water,” he recalled.

He did not give up, and his persistence one day got the attention of Cambodia’s Fisheries Administration (FiA). Through support from development agencies and Cambodia Climate Change Alliance (CCCA) – a programme funded by the EU, Sweden, Denmark and UNDP – the FiA gave him some training in sustainable fish farming. It was part of a broader government’s strategy designed to enable rural families to increase food security and their ability to earn income and adapt better to impacts of climate change. CCCA has also awarded grants to similar climate-resilient fishery projects in three other provinces: Kratie, Kampong Thom, and Pursat.

 Say Sorn’s daughter Say Ratana, left, seizes a catfish caught from a pond in her family’s backyard. (Photo: UNDP Cambodia)

“In other parts of the country we have many villagers who are doing family fish farms like Mr. Say Sorn,” Chin Da, Deputy Director of Department of Aquaculture Development, said. He added that, however, Say Son has stood out as someone with “a strong commitment” to his work and who “actively shares technical information about fish farming to other villagers too.”

“I have so far taught about 200 people in fish hatching and nursing techniques – for free,” Say Sorn said. “Water filtration is important. It helps improve quality of the water and increase the amount of oxygen in it, which is crucial of the fingerlings to survive and grow,” he explained.

Today, his 7,000-square metre backyard is one sophisticated fish raising facility. A key feature is the concrete filtration tank. Here, ground water is stored and filtered through layers of rock and sand for use to hatch and nurse fingerlings before they are big enough to be released into the ponds. There, the fingerlings – and brood stock – are raised inside floating nylon cages designed to keep them from escaping during flood. The 12 ponds in the farm hold about three tons of carp, tilapia, and African catfish. From their sales he is able to make an average income of US$150 a month to support his family of five. Last year, using his savings from the fish sales, he bought two bicycles for his granddaughters to ride to school and a computer to help them in their studies.

Despite the success, he still has one major problem – the rats. At night, they invade the farm by chewing away at the net that forms the fence around the ponds to keep the fish from escaping during flood.

“Maybe to protect my fish I should also raise a lot of cats to catch the rats,” he said, adding that, with his advancing age, one day he will retire for good.

But one of his two granddaughters, Say Danou, 18, is ready to carry on his legacy.

“This is already our family’s business and, if I can, I will make the farm even bigger in the future,” she said.