2 A timeframe for agricultural recovery

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Short-term activities: 3–12 months

Communicate with the farming community

Participatory surveys with the rural community will indicate immediate and longer-term needs of farmers and their families, and help avoid misdirected and wasted aid efforts. Participatory rural consultations in Sri Lanka following the 2004 tsunami provided a valuable opportunity for communities to prioritise their needs (Koralagama et al. 2007).

Coordinate advice and planning of rehabilitation activities

Tsunami-affected farmers need consistent advice about how to manage sediment and soils, and the suitability of their land for farming. Government agencies and non-government organisations (NGOs) need to work together to provide this advice. Aid organisations should work closely with local agricultural extension staff and farming groups in any land rehabilitation effort.

Train agricultural staff and farmers

Since government officers, NGO staff and farmers may have limited experience with the post-tsunami soil and crop conditions, training may be needed in assessing soil salinity and nutrients, reducing soil salinity, propagating and supplying seeds, and making compost.

Repair irrigation, drainage and other farming infrastructure

The 2004 tsunami deposited debris and sediment over farming land, and destroyed irrigation and drainage canals, aquaculture ponds and pumps, sheds and other equipment. In Aceh, it was evident that successful agricultural restoration could not occur before physical infrastructure was repaired and restored. This included removing debris and sediment; restoring roads and tracks; and replacing fences, agricultural machinery (such as hand tractors, ploughs, rice milling equipment and pumps) and buildings (such as milling and storage sheds, field shelters and latrines).

Assessment and repair of irrigation and drainage infrastructure are a priority for successful agricultural recovery. In some areas of Aceh, agricultural production was limited long after the tsunami by inadequate drainage and irrigation. The recovery effort focused on rebuilding infrastructure, such as roads and housing, and often overlooked irrigation and drainage systems. Communities in Sri Lanka ranked the reconstruction of irrigation channels as their top priority for post-tsunami recovery (Koralagama et al. 2007).

Incorporate shallow sediments

Where the sediment layer deposited by the tsunami is shallower than 15–20 cm and not highly saline, it can be incorporated into the soil below. Clay sediments may contain high levels of organic carbon and nutrients (Chaudhary et al. 2006) that can improve the water-holding capacity and fertility of sandy soils. In Aceh, sandy sediments were generally shallower than clay sediments and could be incorporated into the soil.

Remove deep or highly saline sediments

Where sediment removal is an option, sediment that is deeper than 20 cm or contains high levels of salt should be removed. Salty sediments can be stockpiled at the edges of fields and spread back onto the fields after rainfall has leached the salts.

Flush salt from agricultural soils

Where supplies of irrigation water are available, soil salinity levels can be reduced by flushing the salts from the top of the catchment. This can only occur if there is sufficient drainage infrastructure and irrigation capacity, and land levels have not been significantly altered by earthquakes.

In Aceh, irrigation water was used to flush salt from rice paddies. Because the tsunami occurred in the wet season, most fields were already moist; most rice paddies around Banda Aceh contained water, which limited infiltration of saline water into the soil. Wet-season rainfall and the availability of irrigation water helped to flush salt from the soil, except where impediments to drainage were present.

In rainfed areas, ponds and reservoirs may need to be pumped empty of saline water and refilled with rainwater to accelerate leaching.

Avoid farming saline land

Successful crops are an important part of the recovery process after a tsunami, but most crops struggle to be productive in saline soils. Early salinity surveys can identify areas unsuitable for farming, and periodic monitoring will determine when these areas are ready for planting.

Section 4 provides further details on selecting suitable sites for cropping.

Provide high-quality planting material

Supplies of seed and planting material may be scarce, but it is vital that only certified quality seed is supplied to farmers, to ensure that post-tsunami crops do not fail (see Section 4). Before distribution, aid groups should test the quality of seed and other materials intended for farmer use. Sperling (2008) provides a useful guide to assessing the local seed supply and security situation. Farming implements may also be needed to ensure successful establishment of crops.

Grow salt-tolerant crops, where necessary

While salt could be present in the soil, varieties of rice and other crops that can be grown in saline soils must be identified and recommended to farmers (see Section 4). The crops must be matched to the soil salinity levels.

Establish income-producing opportunities for the farming community

In the short term, it may not be possible to generate income from farming activities. During this period, it is important to employ farmers and their families in assessing and repairing drainage and irrigation infrastructure, assessing soil salinity and nutrients, and composting organic waste. These activities will provide income, return farming land to production and encourage independence from food aid. Microfinance to help groups of farmers re-establish may be appropriate once farming activities recommence.

Establish home food gardens

For farmers and villagers who were not displaced by the impact of the tsunami, there is the opportunity to restore home gardens and encourage food growing while agricultural land is rehabilitated. The 2004 tsunami affected local employment, increased inflation as basic commodities became scarce and destroyed local ecosystems that people relied on for survival. These impacts particularly affected poor rural communities. Food-growing programs can be extended into more severely affected areas once housing and infrastructure have been restored.

A number of projects established in Aceh and Sri Lanka (Porteus 2008) focused on backyard food production and developing livelihoods for poor rural communities. A feature of the program in Sri Lanka was collaboration among local community-based organisations, with a longer-term goal of increasing food production and diversity in the affected region.

Establishing home gardens in disaster relief camps is also recommended. Food gardens based on indigenous plant knowledge maintain a connection to tradition, especially for displaced rural people, and reduce dependency on food aid. They can also contribute to improving the wellbeing of displaced people through activity and improvements to camp aesthetics and environment, helping to ease social tensions. Displaced people in Aceh remained in shelters and camps for up to 3 years. Opportunities to support small-scale food production and improve nutrition in camps and temporary shelters were missed by relief agencies in Aceh (Adam-Bradford and Osman 2009).

Consult women farmers and establish women’s farming groups

The Aceh tsunami was followed by great social trauma and isolation. Until affected areas were rehabilitated, many women had limited access to employment and activities outside their homes. Women’s farming groups provide important social outlets, extra income for the family and farming knowledge.

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