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Improving agricultural production in earthquake-hit Sichuan province
Farmers, experts and development partners agree that training and capacity building are urgently needed to support efforts for improved rural production and raising livelihoods of families affected by the May 2008 earthquake in China’s Sichuan province, FAO said today.
Damage caused by the earthquake to rural production is estimated at close to USD 50 billion, and the immediate and medium-term needs of the affected population are considerable: hundreds of thousands of hectares of farmland are dry with widely destroyed irrigation systems, and 330 000 ha of forestry are ruined; 32 million farm animals have perished and 27 million square metres of animal shelter have collapsed.
Six months after the earthquake struck the region, rural families are still, to a great extent, seeking external support for planning and implementing urgent rehabilitation and reconstruction programmes aimed at bringing lasting improvement to livelihoods and rural production. “Millions of resource-poor farmers are struggling to rebuild their homes and cannot afford investment in their farming systems”, the FAO Representative in China, Victoria Sekitoleko, said during a workshop in Chengdu on 15 December.
In addition to the replacement of destroyed productivity, there is a need for a qualitative improvement of production systems. Training and capacity building were one of the main recommendations, FAO added. In six of the most affected counties, the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) and FAO have started five projects, with an overall budget totalling USD 2.5 million.
Immediate measures needed
Farmers are requesting the distribution of productive inputs, coupled with intensive training for economically important crops, appropriate for prevailing socio-economic and environmental conditions in the target areas. Promoting bottom-up approaches and the distribution of cash-vouchers for the purchase of agricultural inputs would allow individual farmers to decide on production priorities while at the same time strengthening local markets.
In order to save the 2009 tea harvest, the rehabilitation of tea-processing units needs to be ensured. Tree nurseries and economic forests need urgent rehabilitation, as well as landslide stabilization and timber processing. Restocking with animals from outside the earthquake area, training and crucial supplies for livestock farmers in areas where animals are the backbone of rural livelihoods. Substantial upscaling of current and planned activities is needed.
“China cannot shoulder this alone. International help is urgently needed. With the help coming too little, too late, the impoverishment of a whole region is at stake”, Thomas Hoerz, FAO’s Emergency Coordinator in China emphasized.
Cooperation between international agencies and provincial and local administrations in the earthquake-affected province is pragmatic and impact-oriented. The 15-16 December workshop in Chengdu brought together Government decision-makers, technical experts from China and abroad, affected farmers and extension workers.
Taking stock of the vast destruction with the latest available figures was only the starting point. More importantly, the workshop discussed approaches and projects that could make a difference to the worst affected rural population. The workshop was jointly organized by the Chinese Ministry of Agriculture, Sichuan Provincial Government, CIDA and FAO.