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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. 

Saturday, April 02, 2005

Tsunami-hit farmers could lose growing season

Online edition of the Daily News; POOR Sri Lankan farmers in tsunami-hit areas whose homestead gardens and small farms were destroyed now face losing a whole season's crops unless they are helped immediately, the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations said today in a press release.

The first growing season since the disaster struck is due when the monsoon rains begin later this month. It is estimated that around 40 percent of the affected lands are suitable ready for cultivation.

There is an immediate need to rebuild fences to protect crops from animals, repair pumps and agro-wells, supply farmers with tool kits, seeds and fertiliser. If the farmers do not start planting now, a whole growing season will be lost.

According to Government and FAO estimates up to 10,000 hectares of coastal agricultural land was damaged by the tsunami that washed debris and salt on average half a kilometre inland destroying paddy fields, small commercial vegetable farms, grazing land and tens of thousands of tiny homestead farms.

In addition the waves swept away farm equipment, tools, seeds and seedlings leaving the farmers with no means to restart their livelihoods.

"Whilst the fishing communities of the shores suffered the most in the tsunami, we must not forget poor farmers of the coastal regions who lost all their livelihoods in the tsunami but who have so far received little attention from the international community," said FAO Country Representative Pierre Gence.

Since the beginning of the emergency, FAO has trained more than 100 local government officials to use equipment to test the soil for salinity in all the affected districts and advised on how to remove salt from soil so that farmers did not plant crops only for them to die.

Some tsunami-hit districts like onion producing Trincomalee and the country's rice heartland of Ampara are now ready for planting so that the farmers who have lost everything can start to rebuild their livelihoods.

Based on an estimate of four months of an annual average production these farmers have faced a total income loss of 1,085 billion rupees ($US 10.9 million) since December 26. Subsistence farms of tiny plot of land that feed whole families formed the bulk of the damaged land.

"Most of the seeds and cuttings were lost so the planting material has to be supplied from other areas. People want to start these farming activities quickly because it is their livelihood," said Dr. Sithamparapillai Gnanachandran, Provincial Director of Agriculture for the hard hit East and Northern Province.

The first priority is to fence in the homesteads, leach remaining salt from the soil and repair water pumps and other equipment farmers managed to salvage.

For those farmers too traumatised to return to their coastal farms or those who no longer have any homes to go to, funds are required to supply them with potted plants so that they can begin growing green leaf vegetables and other plant to supplement their diets in the IDP camps.

"It will act as a kind of therapy for them, give them something to take their minds off their troubles and look to the future," said Gnanachandran.

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