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GIEWS Update-detail
FAO/GIEWS Global Watch

23 May 2008

Wenchuan Earthquake - Impact on agriculture, livestock and food security in affected areas, and implications for China

An earthquake of magnitude 7.9 on May 12 rocked the south-western province of Sichuan in China, the worst the nation has experienced in 30 years. As of 23 May, over 55 700 people have been confirmed dead, more than 288 000 injured, and over 24 960 missing. Buildings (including 600 000 homes), infrastructure and communications have been destroyed or severely damaged. Some 5 million people have been displaced in eight affected provinces and municipalities including Sichuan (the province most severely affected), Gansu, Shaanxi, Chongqing, Yunnan, Shanxi, Guizhou and Hubei. The earthquake caused unprecedented destruction in affected areas.

The Government of China has launched a major, wide-ranging rescue, recovery, and relief effort, involving approximately 130 000 army troops, 34 000 medical staff, and scores of civilians. Some 200 000 displaced people have been sheltered in nearly 100 emergency camps; emergency assistance, including food and bottled drinking water, are still urgently needed.

It is too early to assess the exact extent of crop and livestock losses, but based on a rapid assessment by the Ministry of Agriculture of China, over 33 000 ha of crops were damaged, more than 12.5 million head of livestock (mostly pigs and poultry) killed, and over 8 000 tonnes of fish seedlings lost. Major agricultural infrastructures have been destroyed, including irrigation systems for some 100 000 hectares of paddy fields, over 50 000 greenhouses and 7.3 million square meters of livestock barns . In addition, 20 000 hectares of fish ponds were destroyed or damaged.

At the time of the earthquake, harvesting of wheat, oilseeds and potatoes was underway in the most affected areas, and localized damage to these crops is severe. Harvesting has been delayed, and crops are at risk of being lost.. As of 21 May, some 81 percent of wheat (1.113 million hectares) and 93 percent of oilseeds (0.831 million hectares) in Sichuan province had reportedly been harvested, while about 50 percent of wheat and 30 percent of oilseeds had reportedly not yet been harvested in the worst affected areas. Maize in the affected areas was in the early development stages and some, especially in the hilly areas, was damaged. The yield is expected to be reduced due to damaged irrigation systems and a tight supply of fertilizers and pesticides following road destruction. Paddy rice is in the transplanting stage and some seeding plots were destroyed or damaged; they will need to be reseeded or shifted to maize, which requires less water.

Most of the population affected by the earthquake is critically dependent on agriculture for their livelihoods and many are vulnerable to food insecurity. Therefore, food assistance is urgently needed since cereal stocks kept by farmers have been lost and their agriculture production and their income generation impaired. In the agricultural sector, there is an urgent need for inputs such as seeds for replanting, tillage and irrigation services, fertilizers for maize and paddy production, as well as pesticides, fuel, and small agricultural tools. There is also a need for feed and vaccines for livestock, and restocking of fish ponds.

Despite severe damage to crops in the worst-affected areas, the impact of the disaster on national grain output is expected to be limited due to the regionís small share in national production. Similarly, the impact on national pork supply is also likely to be minimal; although Sichuan is Chinaís largest pork producing province, the affected counties are not the major pork producing areas. At the national level, the output of winter wheat, which usually accounts for about 95 percent of annual wheat production, and was planted on an estimated 21.55 million hectares, is forecast to be slightly higher than the record level of last year, reflecting good weather conditions in major producing regions. The overall food supply situation in China is satisfactory; the country had net exports of some 5 million tonnes of cereals in 2006/07 and is expected to remain a net cereal exporter in 2007/08 and in 2008/09.