South Asia: Soil salinity problems are limited in tsunami affected countries - Planting could resume in many areas, but farmers are still facing other constraints
"A total of 47 000 hectares (ha) of agricultural land have been damaged by tsunami waves in Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Maldives, India and Thailand," said Daniel Renault, the FAO coordinator for agriculture in tsunami affected countries.
"Around 38 000 ha of that land can be used for cultivation this year, while the remaining 9 000 ha, mainly in the worst hit Indonesian province of Aceh, have been lost to the sea or can no longer be used for farming," he added. "This lost amount is small compared to the 300 000 ha of rice fields in Aceh."
However, "Due emphasis needs to be given to enhancing rural development and food security, as well as to ensuring that capacities are rebuilt in accordance with the requirements of sustainable resource use and improved environmental protection", said He Changchui, FAO's regional representative for Asia and the Pacific.
It was initially feared that agricultural land flooded with salt water in coastal areas hit by the tsunami would lose its soil fertility making it unusable for cultivation for a long time.
Rains and irrigation
"Fortunately, due to the humid conditions in most of the Indian Ocean countries, salt-polluted arable land has been cleaned by rainfall and irrigation," Renault said.
Recent surveys carried out by FAO and others clearly show that salt deposited in more than two thirds of the affected agricultural land has been leached out already allowing planting to resume with the beginning of the cropping season in April/May.
In the Maldives , an FAO survey shows that the top soil has been largely cleaned from salinity by recent rains. On parts of the east coast of Sri Lanka and the West coast of Aceh, heavy rains have also cleaned most of the polluted land. Along the Indian coast of Andra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu, farmers are waiting for the monsoon rains.
In areas without irrigation or sufficient rainfall mainly along the eastern coastal strips of affected countries, available freshwater from storage or rivers could temporarily be pumped to clean fields that have been polluted by saltwater waves. These activities could be financed from tsunami recovery funds, FAO suggested.
Salinity is only one constraint
"Although soil salinity is declining progressively and normal cropping conditions can be expected within a few months in the countries hit by the tsunami, there are other factors that determine if farmers will resume planting," Renault said.
"Many fields have been covered by soil sediment and trash and have been damaged by massive soil erosion. In addition, there is a shortage of labour for cleaning and cultivating fields. Many farmers also lack capital and tools to resume production."
FAO estimates that farming activities of hundreds of thousands of farmers and their families in the region, who depend on agriculture for their livelihoods, have been affected by the tsunami.
Furthermore, more than 40 000 home gardens -- small plots of land used for planting vegetables, medical plants and trees, which provide an important additional source of nutrients and income for many people -- have been devastated and need to be urgently restored.
"To revive agriculture along the coastal areas of the Indian Ocean hit by the tsunami, an integrated approach is needed to repair physical damage, rehabilitate agricultural land and strengthen farming systems," added Mr He.
Experts from six countries (India, Indonesia, Maldives, Myanmar, Sri Lanka and Thailand) are attending the regional workshop in Bangkok from 31 March to 01 April, together with representatives of donor countries and other development organizations.
Read the document: Salinity is no longer a threat to the majority of tsunami-affected land
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