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Serving Sri Lanka

This web log is a news and views blog. The primary aim is to provide an avenue for the expression and collection of ideas on sustainable, fair, and just, grassroot level development. Some of the topics that the blog will specifically address are: poverty reduction, rural development, educational issues, social empowerment, post-Tsunami relief and reconstruction, livelihood development, environmental conservation and bio-diversity. 

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Teaching salinity awareness in tsunami-hit region

Agriculture and Coastal Systems: FAO in action: "Provision of EC-meters and enhancing salinity assessment/management expertise in Tsunami-affected regions


Immediately after the tsunami FAO predicted that salinity would be an issue in the recovery of tsunami-affected lands. Saline seawater covered large stretches of coast up to a few kilometers inlands at places. High toxicity of ground water and osmotic stress lead to perishing of crops and loss of soil fertility. Saline sediments aggravate these problems. Without proper leaching (through watering and drainage) these salinized lands could be lost for agriculture. FAO Salinity Experts assessed the extent of the salinity problems in the most-affected regions of the Indian Ocean (mainly Aceh-Indonesia, Sri Lanka and the Maldives). Three months after the tsunami these assessments show that in most regions these problems were large but thanks to high precipitation in parts of the region and irrigation elsewhere there will be few long-term effects. Nevertheless, a strong lack of local capacity to deal with salinity issues was encountered by all FAO-missions, which is of course partly due to the unique nature of the disaster. As an early response, FAO procured and distributed over 150 EC-meters to be used in the assessment and continuous monitoring of salinity levels on the fields, in wells and groundwater. Trainings were organized by FAO-experts for agricultural staff to ensure proper use of the equipment and to build capacity to assess and monitor salinity issues locally. Continued monitoring will serve three purposes:

1. Timely advice can be provided to the farmers on soil and water conditions for crop production;

2. Regular and systematic monitoring can identify those areas where salinity is more persistent than initially assumed. These areas can than be subject to further investigation.

3. Keeping monitoring records will allow the ‘researcher' to learn of this event to the benefit of the future.


Aceh suffered heavily from salinity problems and land degradation in general. Because of the magnitude of the disaster and the combination of damages (salination, sedimentation, debris, erosion, scouring, and land loss) a land damage classification was developed specifically for the Indonesian context, salinity being one of the issues to be assessed. Along with the assessment, FAO acknowledged the need for major capacity building in dealing with land rehabilitation in the affected regions. FAO carried out limited soil testing and land classification exercises in Aceh in January and February and prepared these initial results and suggestions in an informal format: FAO field guide: “20 things to know about the impact of salt water on agricultural land in Aceh Province”. This manuscript provides a brief guide on the subject of soil contamination by salt as a result of tsunami inundation of agricultural land in coastal areas of Aceh province. In this and other ways, FAO, together with UNOCHA, offers its services both as a source of technical information, and as the mediator for a forum on the topic. After the initial assessment gave insight in the general situation regarding salinity, a further comprehensive soil salinity field survey was carried out in early March by 12 field teams along the East Coast of Aceh Province, the results of which were presented at the Regional Workshop on Salinity in Bangkok (31/3-1/4). At the time of the survey about one-third of the affected fields in the East Coast had salinity levels acceptable for cultivation (EC4), and it was expected that by the end of May this number would increase to about 60%. These extensive surveys serve two purposes. The first is to have a more detailed assessment of the impacts and have a detailed land classification. The second purpose is to enhance local capacity in these field surveys and salinity assessment and further to base village-based strategies on basis of these classifications.

Sri Lanka

In addition to the 6 locally purchased portable EC/pH-meters, FAO ordered 10 portable EC meters, 10 soil salinity meters and one standard lab EC meter. Calibration of the direct soil salinity meters requires some time and effort in order to be able to convert the direct reading into standard ECe readings. Instruments will need to be calibrated before distribution to the districts. Agricultural Instructors will receive training on the use of these meters. During the FAO-expert mission in March a first step was made to bridge the gap in knowledge of and ability to deal with salinity issues. More than hundred Agricultural Instructors, Assistant Directors Agriculture and Agricultural Officers of the affected districts have been trained in three separate training session in the use of salinity equipment, field procedures for soil and water testing, interpretation of results and advice to farmers on the use of saline soil and water for crop production. All of the district offices are still suffering from a lack of transport and funds to undertake monitoring activities. Funds are needed in the coming months of salinity monitoring and traveling to the farmers to advice them on the status of soil and water salinity. The Workshop Training Manual was worked out to serve agricultural staff in the field. The training manual incorporates all information required by the Agricultural Instructors to monitor soil and water salinity and properly advice the farmers on salinity issues. In the longer term, a support-system and central database system needs to be set-up. Agricultural/horticultural Research Institutes could collaborate with line departments of the government in supporting the Agricultural Instructors in their field programs. Salinity expertise could in future also be used to undertake studies and develop programs for inland salinity that occurs in various parts of the dry coastal zones especially in areas where displaced people have been resettled on marginal lands.

The Maldives

A FAO-consultant provided a 1-day training in soil salinity measurement to the staff of the Hanimaadhoo Agricultural Centre in the Northern part of the country in early March. It involved an introduction into the nature of soil salinity, the harmful impacts on crops and soils, a demonstration and hands-on practice of a EC1:1 soil salinity measurement and a discussion on the interpretation of these measurements.

Salinity guidelines were developed for local use. In the wetter South of the Country, in Medhoo Agricultural Centre the laboratory facilities and the available salinity measuring equipment was inspected and assessed and methods of salinity assessment were discussed with the staff. At the Ministry of Fisheries, Agriculture and Marine Resources (MFAMR) in the capital Male a presentation on soil salinity assessment and management was organized for staff of the Agricultural section. A senior member of the staff accompanied the FAO-consultant on his field visits and training sessions, resulting in a considerable knowledge transfer on soil salinity assessment/management. Initially procured salinity measurement instruments were found to be of insufficient range (only measuring up to 4 dS/m) and a second shipment was ordered. The agricultural centers seemed to be fairly well-equipped, but lacked salinity assessment/management expertise. As the salinity problems in the Maldives are expected to fade away naturally, no reclamation interventions were developed. The lack of expertise in the country has been noticed however, and receives continued attention from FAO.


With the initial assessments behind us and a regional workshop finished in late March that concluded that salinity problems ceased to be a major threat to future agricultural production in the region, the positive conclusion can be that initial fears have proven to be unfounded. On the one hand this allows FAO to concentrate on the major challenges ahead that are still impeding farmers to start cultivation, on the other hand it allows for incorporation of salinity assessment and monitoring in a more comprehensive approach towards salinity and soil- and water quality. The first steps of equipping and capacity building have been made in all countries and it is the intention to further consolidate this approach."

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