5 Aiding the recovery of agriculture and farmer livelihoods

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Communication and coordination

The magnitude of the humanitarian effort required after the 2004 tsunami inevitably led to duplications and gaps in rehabilitation activities in agricultural areas. Good communication is needed between all groups providing agricultural aid so that they can share successes and problems, and learn from each others’ experiences.

In the state of Tamil Nadu, India, a coordinating body was established for the post-tsunami recovery activities of some 500 non-government organisations (NGOs). The NGO Coordination and Resource Centre (NCRC) assessed damage to agricultural land and established a package of rehabilitation activities (Mohan 2008). The roles of the NCRC were to:

  • facilitate communication between planners and affected communities
  • inform NGOs about the importance of agriculture and the need for assistance
  • link local NGOs with donors
  • use a participatory process to allocate NGOs to affected communities
  • develop a common vision for the post-tsunami recovery in Tamil Nadu.

The NCRC response was divided into three categories:

  • immediate—desalinisation
  • short term—restoration of soil fertility
  • long term—ensuring the viability of agriculture.

Although a similar body was established in Aceh by the Indonesian Government, many NGOs involved in agricultural recovery operated in isolation and for short-term projects only, and communication and collaboration among organisations was limited. NGOs were required to document their projects and progress on a web-based registry of the Bureau of Rehabilitation and Reconstruction. This provided NGOs with an opportunity to make contact with other organisations working in a similar sector; however, progress reports provided limited information on post-tsunami soil and crop conditions, and re-establishment of farming.

Forums to share post-tsunami or post-disaster experiences can improve agricultural restoration processes. This was demonstrated by a regional forum convened by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations in 2006 (FAO 2006) and a workshop in Indonesia in 2008 (Agus and Tinning 2008).

The experience in Aceh showed a need for a clear allocation of responsibilities and activities in agricultural areas among national, provincial and local government agricultural research and extension agencies, NGOs and farmer groups. These responsibilities and activities are best defined in emergency planning protocols that can be implemented immediately after a tsunami. This is particularly important in regions such as Aceh where most of the coastal rural population relies on agriculture for livelihoods and employment.

Non-government organisations

After the tsunami hit, many NGO aid groups worked in Aceh’s rural areas. Most of them worked independently and were not familiar with local agricultural practices, crops and seasons, and this led to some inappropriate plantings and failed crops. When farmers encountered problems and asked government advisers for help, the advisers were not familiar with the NGO programs. It is vital that NGOs work with local agricultural services to ensure the long-term sustainability of their agricultural work once the aid program finishes. Aid groups need to understand—by liaising with agricultural departments or local government—how agriculture is managed at a district or local level. They should then build links with local farmer groups, advisers and NGOs, to ensure good communication. Local knowledge of field staff and farmers is crucial to the recovery process.

The Aceh experience has shown that agricultural aid workers and government agricultural extension workers need to work together to:

  • build relationships
  • exchange knowledge
  • plan work programs to ensure that all information provided to farmers is consistent
  • share feedback from farmers about their needs.

Governments should treat NGOs as an opportunity, not as competition, and make it easier for them to assist farmers through collaboration with the government extension network.

The projects undertaken by the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR) have shown that it takes some time to restore soil health in tsunami-affected areas. Consequently, it may be useful for agricultural aid projects to commit to 2–3-year projects, rather than projects that only address the emergency period.

Urban recovery impacts

Coordination between urban planning and agricultural rehabilitation is required to minimise impacts on agricultural land. For instance, drainage from new housing estates near Banda Aceh resulted in nearby agricultural land becoming a flood basin that could no longer be reliably used for crop production.


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