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2. Overview of workshop proceedings

The workshop was opened by Mr He Changchui, FAO Assistant Director-General and Regional Representative for Asia and the Pacific. He stated that the damages to crop production mainly resulted from the intrusion of sea water into soils and the deposition of saline sediments onto agricultural lands. The sea waves also destroyed irrigation and drainage facilities, other agricultural infrastructures, implements, tools and standing crops, as well as marketing facilities. The tsunami thus resulted not only in considerable loss of life, but also in losses of capital and the livelihoods of small farmers in the affected areas.

Session 1: Country report on impacts of the tsunami on soil and water resources

After an introduction to Session 1 of the workshop by Mr Thierry Facon, FAO Senior Water Management Officer (Asia and the Pacific), the representatives from the six tsunami-impacted countries presented overviews of the extent of impacts of the tsunami on land and water resources in their respective countries, their responses to date, and their plans for future rehabilitation work. The degree of impact clearly varies among the countries, but a major common problem is salt-affected soil. However, it was generally reported that the salinity problem has been greatly reduced by the rainwater that fell after the tsunami event. The country reports are summarized below.


Damages to water resources (for drinking and irrigation) and soil, interventions for rehabilitation, and the integration of employment generation activities in the rehabilitation and reconstruction work were discussed. Major concerns were the loss of livelihoods of landless and small farmers, skilled artisans, and small agro based traders. Damages to soil, including loss of standing crops, salinity caused by sea water intrusion, and deposits on land, are evident but the extent and nature of damages is still unknown and need to be assessed. Removal of debris and sediment together with salt leaching by rain water and irrigation were suggested. Heavy textured soils may require a longer time for rehabilitation. It was pointed out that currently available data is at regional scale and farm level assessment is necessary. It was suggested that this could be carried out by local youths. But first it would be necessary to train them. It was also pointed out that it was necessary to identify restoration plans involving leaching, the adoption of new cropping systems, and monitoring by means of remote sensing technologies. The idea of establishing an ecological plantation as a pilot study to test and monitor appropriate intervention methods was suggested. It was envisaged that the most significant problems likely to be encountered during restoration will be dealing with the psychological trauma of survivors, migration/relocation issues, social tensions, and environmental changes.


In Indonesia, the damages to agricultural land are severe and economic activity has been devastated by infrastructure losses. In Aceh, the tsunami was estimated to destroy 92 000 farms and small enterprises resulting in more than 600 000 lost jobs. Total damaged agriculture land area is estimated to be 61 816 ha. Several forms of damage were reported, namely: a) Crop destruction by waves, salt poisoning, and uprooting; b) de-surfacing of landscape as a result of erosion and sedimentation; c) deposition of salt sediment; d) trash and debris accumulation; e) salt infiltration; and f) fertility depletion. The FAO’s proposed framework for a reclamation action plan for affected soils with a land damage classification system was introduced. A rehabilitation strategy for each class with possible options was identified. Immediate actions to be taken are the rehabilitation of drainage systems for effective leaching of salt, with a possible cash-for-work scheme, provision of agriculture inputs, tools and equipment, institution building through the formation of farmer groups and a financial support mechanism.


Reports indicated more than 80 people confirmed dead and over 12 000 people homeless and 1 300 people injured. Nearly 12 000 people were displaced from their own islands and another 8 500 have been temporarily relocated to other places on their own islands. Livelihoods have been disrupted and the impact on the national economy is substantial. Agricultural crops were swept away and most of the agricultural land is covered with salty mud leaving it unusable. The saline water from the tsunami-affected groundwater quality as well as soil salinity levels. About 50 percent of agriculture land consists of home gardens and 73 percent of agriculture land was damaged. This affected about 15 000 farmers and resulted in economic losses amounting to an estimated US$6.76 million. More than 370 000 fruit trees were destroyed by salt damage. Emergency assistance to support affected rural communities has been provided by FAO, the Asian Development Bank (ADB), and other donors. Capacity building in salinity assessment and management through training of the government staff was proposed as a long-term rehabilitation measure.


After a general introduction to agriculture in Myanmar, several possible reasons for the fact that Myanmar suffered relatively less tsunami-related damages than other countries were given. These included: No active subduction occurred; the direction of the tsunami (toward north and south) did not produce very high waves; coastal mangrove forests reduced the impact of the waves; and many fishing families were located on higher ground at the time of the tsunami as they had gone there to celebrate a cultural (religious) event. It was reported that the embankments constructed to prevent salt water intrusion had sustained no damage. There was also a report on the government’s relief work for the victims. The leaching of salt and the importance of drainage for the reclamation of salt-affected soil were emphasized along with the possible introduction of salt tolerant crops.

Sri Lanka

As there was no Sri Lankan participant, Ms Neeltje Kielen, FAO Salinity Expert, who worked in Sri Lanka on the assessment of the tsunami damage to agriculture land presented the report. It was reported that the total estimated damage to crops is about 4 900 ha. About 7 500 farmers are affected and total losses amount to about Rs350.7 million. Programmes implemented include: a) Awareness raising and public participation; b) renovation and construction of drainage systems; c) cleaning and desilting of agriculture lands; d) removal of standing water; e) leaching by rainwater; f) improved drainage systems; g) monitoring of salinity levels and recommended crops; h) restoration of soil fertility; i) cleaning of wells; and j) a project proposal prepared for each district. Plans for reclamation/rehabilitation are to demarcate immediately cultivable lands, multiply saline tolerant rice varieties, use rain water effectively, rehabilitate irrigation structures, improve drainage facilities, and recommend suitable agronomic packages for rice, vegetables, fruits and other field crops.


The results of a primary survey estimated that the total agriculture land affected in six provinces is 2 023 ha (12 644 rai), comprising 73 ha paddy, 93 ha field crops, 1 590 ha of tree plantation and 237 ha other crops. The recommended rehabilitation measures are leaching of soil salinity and organic amendment, but fresh water resources are limited.

Session 2: Technical considerations on tsunami-affected land and water resources

Session 2 was introduced by Mr Yuji Niino, Land Management Officer. The objective was to identify the priority technical issues and methods and strategies for interventions based on the reporting from Session 1. Three groups were formed on the basis of problem similarity and geographical proximity: Group 1 comprised India and Indonesia, Group 2 comprised Sri Lanka and Maldives, and Group 3 comprised Myanmar and Thailand. The discussions that took place are summarised below.

Group 1 (India and Indonesia)

Major damages on land have been caused by soil salinity and sediments, and have resulted in a loss of farming capacity. An assessment of the damages and of the capacity for rehabilitation is necessary. Rehabilitation strategies should be site specific and water management should play a critical role.

The group suggested that the intervention should cover technical solutions and capacity building of local government and NGOs. The recommended technical solutions should be practical and acceptable to the farmers. Specific recommendations based on the classification of damages should be formulated, and post intervention monitoring is also required. Suggested site specific strategies including leaching of salt to groundwater and surface drainage depend on groundwater levels and the condition of drainage systems. Local government and NGOs should play important roles and capacity building is important. A practical and acceptable technology package is required to avoid confusion and to facilitate better adoption and implementation by farmers.

Group 2 (Maldives and Sri Lanka)

The soils in Maldives are characterized as light textured soils with high hydraulic conductivity, and they benefited from leaching of salt by a limited amount of rainfall after the tsunami. It is further expected that the coming monsoon will flush the salt in the soil and improve groundwater quality. Family gardens are an important source of food as well as of income generation and should be restored after the monsoon period. The provision of planting materials and technical expertise along with capacity building is also considered necessary.

In the case of Sri Lanka, the affected areas are divided into three zones, wet (>2 500 mm rainfall), intermediate (1 500-2 500 mm) and dry (<1 500 mm). Wet and intermediate zones are deemed to be problem free as natural flushing and remediation will occur over the next rainy (maha) season, and about 90 percent of the affected land will be able to produce at least 80 percent of normal production capacity. The dry zone may experience prolonged effects. The lack of capacity among extension workers and farmers to assess and make recommendations on salinity and sodicity problems of the soil is recognized and training through the Farmer Field School scheme was suggested.

Group 3 (Myanmar and Thailand)

The group discussed technical consideration for future implementation in salt-affected areas, and suggested identifying and classifying the affected land and water resources, measuring salinity, and the preparation of a salt-affected soil map and specific recommendations based on its zoning by four classes, A, B, C, and D. The classification should be standard in the region and a monitoring programme lasting a minimum of two years is required.

Session 3: Mitigation methods and strategies for tsunami-affected land and water resources

The representatives from the international organizations presented the results of their initial assessments along with the technical options and strategies for mitigation of soil salinity based on the site specific conditions. The land reclamation measures suggested by Mr Ronald Dijk, FAO Land and Water Management specialist in Indonesia, include external drainage, surface drainage, surface flushing, removal of sediments, sub-surface drainage, and improved field water management. Changes in cropping patterns and farming systems to cope with affected farming capacity and livelihood were also suggested for consideration. It has been recognized that the re-establishment of food production and livelihoods are the most urgent issues that require technical inputs and training for the medium-term rehabilitation. The Australian Center for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR), represented by Dr John Skerritt, made a proposal to assist the Indonesian government by providing training on agronomy and soil laboratory analysis to extension and research staff, selected NGOs, and through Training of Trainers (TOT) courses. Additional strategies suggested by Dr Andrew Noble, International Water Management Institute - South East Asia Regional Office (IWMI-SEA), were the application of organic materials and retention and management methods at the soil surface, and the introduction of salt tolerant crops. Dr Vethaiya Balasubramanian of the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) emphasised that rice sensitivity to salinity differs according to the plant’s stage of growth and on the basis of the degree of soil salinity present and suggested that these factors should govern the choice of crops. In addition, he suggested that non-farm income generation activities would be necessary. Dr Henk Ritzema, International Institute for Land Reclamation and Improvement - Wageningen University and Research Centre (ILRI-WUR), reported on the successful approaches adopted by an Indian foundation that include: Desilting of drainage canals, ponds, and wells; dewatering farm ponds; scraping the salt crust; and leaching of salts by rainwater and irrigation for short-term intervention. In the long term, agro-ecological planning, studying backwater areas, and empowering farmers through establishing microfinancing and cooperative insurance schemes are recommended.

Session 4: Formulation of a regional strategic framework

The objectives of the task of formulating the Regional Strategic Framework were introduced by Dr Daniel Renaut, FAO Senior Irrigation System Management Officer, and thereafter the participants were grouped into four groups to discuss the following issues:

1. Soil and Land: Getting the fields ready for cultivation.
2. Agriculture Land and Coastal Management: Integrated Coastal Zone Management (ICZM).
3. Guiding principles for R3 [Relief-Rehabilitation-Reconstruction].
4. Agriculture Diversification: Land and water improvements.

The regional strategic framework which was prepared by consolidating all the contributions provided by the participants is attached in annex 1.

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