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GIEWS Update-detail
FAO/GIEWS Global Watch

30 May 2008

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

An earthquake of magnitude 8.0 on May 12 rocked the south-western province of Sichuan in China, the worst the nation has experienced in 30 years. As of 30 May, over 68 500 people have been confirmed dead, more than 365 000 injured, and over 19 000 missing. About 5.46 million homes have been destroyed and an additional 5.9 million homes seriously damaged. More than 45.6 million people were affected and some 15 million people have been displaced in eight impacted provinces and municipalities including Sichuan (the province most severely affected), Gansu, Shaanxi, Chongqing, Yunnan, Shanxi, Guizhou and Hubei. The earthquake caused unprecedented destruction.

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 1.52 million pigs, 600 000 cattle, 1.78 million goats, and 14 million rabbits and poultry were killed, and over 8 000 tonnes of fish seedlings lost. Major agricultural infrastructures have been destroyed or severely damaged, including 2 380 dams and irrigation systems for some 100 000 hectares of paddy fields, and over 50 000 greenhouses. 7.3 million square meters of livestock barns, and 20 000 hectares of fish ponds have also been lost. In addition, phosphorus ore mines and fertilizer plants were partly destroyed. Sichuan is the fourth largest province in Chinaís for phosphorus ore reserves, and home of many fertilizer enterprises.

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 cereal production. 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. However, the impact on national pork supply is likely to be large. Sichuan is Chinaís largest pork producing province, and some major production areas have been impacted. In response to high meat prices and following the earthquake, the government of China has reduced the import duty on pig meat by 50 percent, effective from June 1 to December 31, 2008.

The overall food supply situation in China remains 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.