Key points

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1 The 2004 tsunami in Aceh

  • The Indian Ocean tsunami was triggered by a 9.1 magnitude earthquake off the coast of Aceh, affecting 92,000 ha of agricultural land and plantations in Aceh, and farmland and farmers’ livelihoods in Thailand, India and Sri Lanka.
  • Wave heights were up to 30 m along Aceh’s west coast and up to 5 m along the east coast.
  • More than 330,000 people in Aceh required food and financial assistance as a result of loss of farming and fishing livelihoods.
  • The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations has developed a post-tsunami damage classification system to help determine where to concentrate land rehabilitation efforts.

2 A timeframe for agricultural recovery

  • Immediate activities (within 6 months) after a tsunami:
    • Clean up waste and debris.
    • Survey land levels.
    • Train agricultural staff in soil and water assessment and observation.
  • Short-term activities (3–12 months) after a tsunami:
    • Communicate with local farmers, especially women.
    • Coordinate advice and planning.
    • Repair irrigation and drainage infrastructure.
    • Train agricultural staff and farmers in rehabilitation methods.
    • Avoid establishing crops on saline land.
    • Incorporate shallow sediments into the soil.
    • Remove deep or highly saline sediments.
    • Use irrigation water (or rainfall) to flush salt from the soil.
    • Investigate other methods of producing income in rural areas.
    • Establish home food gardens.
  • Long-term activities (> 12 months) after a tsunami:
    • Transfer technology and knowledge to farmers.
    • Maintain training programs for agricultural staff and non-government organisations.
    • Monitor plant nutrition and crop health.
    • Monitor the long-term health of tree crops, which might be affected by seasonal fluctuations in saline groundwater levels.
    • Expand support and training to surrounding areas less affected by the tsunami.

3 Post-tsunami assessment and restoration of soil and water

  • The level of salinity in tsunami-affected soils in Aceh and the rate of salt leaching was influenced by:
    • the length of time that land was inundated by sea water
    • soil moisture levels at the time of the tsunami
    • soil type—salt leaches faster from sandy and peat soils than from clay soils
    • the depth and type of sediment deposited by the tsunami
    • drainage in fields and the local catchment
    • access to irrigation water to flush salt from fields
    • rainfall after the tsunami.
  • Salt can leach vertically through the soil profile and laterally across fields with surface waters.
  • Three years after the tsunami, high salinity readings were still measured in Aceh, mainly linked to poor drainage.
  • Construct in-field drainage to accelerate the salt leaching process.
  • Assess results from soil salinity surveys carefully to avoid misinterpretation.
  • Incorporate shallow sediments (<20 cm) that are not highly saline into the topsoil.
  • Remove deeper or highly saline sediments from fields.

4 Crop management

  • Identify the types of farming systems present before the tsunami, including crops and yields, and management of inputs such as fertilisers.
  • Make important resources such as soils or landscape maps available to all organisations and groups working to restore agriculture.
  • Establish crops at sites where the tsunami impacts are minimal and the soil is least affected by salinity.
  • Test water sources, especially groundwater, for salinity levels before using the water for irrigation.
  • Consider using raised beds, which are useful to establish crops in salinity-affected soils and areas prone to waterlogging.
  • Where available, use salt-tolerant varieties of crops.
  • Assess the local seed supply situation:
    • Distribute viable, certified seed of crops and varieties that farmers are familiar with.
    • Provide training in the production of seed crops, and quality assurance, storage and distribution of seed.
  • Monitor changes in weed species. Encourage coordination between farmers to control pests and weeds.
  • After planting, monitor growth, yields and any symptoms of nutrient deficiencies or plant stress, to identify trends and develop site histories.
  • Test soils for major nutrients before planting and fertilising.
  • Use organic fertilisers, such as manure, composts, crop residues and mulches, to improve soil health and fertility.
  • Develop trials to demonstrate new production systems and practices, and compare them with existing farmer practices.

5 Aiding the recovery of agriculture and farmer livelihoods

Communication and coordination

  • In emergency planning protocols, clearly allocate responsibilities and activities in agricultural areas among national, provincial and local government research and extension agencies, non-government organisations (NGOs) and farmer groups.
  • Develop links and coordination between governments and NGOs.
  • Coordinate urban recovery and agricultural rehabilitation to minimise impacts on agricultural land.

Capacity building

  • Build the capacity of local agricultural extension staff, NGO workers and farmer groups:
    • by involving farmers in field trials and monitoring activities
    • by providing training in what to expect and how to overcome production problems due to seawater inundation and sediment.
  • Rebuild technical and quality assurance capacity (especially laboratory facilities).

Social recovery

  • Re-establish farmer and community groups, including groups for women.
  • Encourage productive activity.
  • Facilitate the establishment of food gardens in refugee camps, especially in rural areas where the majority of residents will be farmers.

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