"The flood took everything"
Rice seed from FAO gets small-scale farmers restarted
29 October 2004, Galle, Sri Lanka - In the worst flood in 50 years, rice farmers in southern Sri Lanka last year lost their crop and the stock they had stored for food. Thanks to immediate action by FAO's emergency relief and rehabilitation programme over 20 000 farm families received help to recover from their loss.
Even the most severely affected farmers resumed the production of their crop the following season. A year later, their rice crops are thriving.
Two weeks under water
Ariyasena Wickremaarachch, a 48-year-old subsistence farmer, works in his half-acre rice field. This season the weather has been favourable and the rice grows well.
But a little over a year ago, his field and others like it were under water, after the area received 400 millimetres of rain in two days.
"The water came up to here," Wickremaarachch says, raising his hand to his chest. "And once the water was gone, the fields that had not been washed away were covered with mud. I had planted only two weeks earlier so my crop was very weak. If it had grown higher before the flood it might have stayed."
"Many farmers lost their crop in the field and replanting was not a practical option as the flood had also washed away or damaged the rice stocks kept for consumption and for seed," says Jean Michel Arnoult, FAO Emergency Coordinator in Sri Lanka.
"My field was covered with water for two weeks, but as soon as the water disappeared my neighbours and I received assistance from FAO. In that way I could plant again the coming season and didn't lose more than one of the two crops that year," Wickremaarachch says. "Had I not received the assistance, I would not be standing in this prosperous field today."
P.M. Premasiri is 30 years old and a father of two. He cultivates two plots of half an acre each where he grows rice. But, like many small-scale farmers in the area, he is a tenant and must give 25 percent of the yield to the owner of the land he cultivates.
"The flood took everything, the crop I had just planted and the seeds I had stored in the house," he says. "I was left with nothing. Even my house was destroyed by the water, and everything in it: furniture, our clothes, my children's schoolbooks."
Seed and instructions
FAO provided rice seed and fertilizer sufficient for each farmer to plant up to two acres of rice for the following season, the Maha season, which begins in September.
"Immediately after the flood I received one bushel of seed and enough fertilizer so that I could sow again in the Maha season. With the package, I got these instructions explaining how to get the best out of the kit. I also participated in training by an agricultural instructor that came to our village," Premasiri says, showing the instruction sheet.
"I have kept the instructions and continue to follow them using the same kind and amount of fertilizer. That gives me better yield than before the flood," he says. "For my total of one acre I received one bushel of paddy seed and fertilizer. I was lucky and got a yield of 35 bushels out of that seed. That is more than I usually get."
The beneficiaries of the FAO project are subsistence farmers that depend heavily on their rice for food.
"Rice from my field is my family's main source of food. But even in good years the yield is not enough to live on, so I also work on a rubber plantation to earn some extra money. This gives me 200 rupees per day that I use to buy other food for my family," says Premasiri.
Opportunity for training
"In an emergency such as this it is critical that the distribution is timely and properly directed," says Jean Michel Arnoult.
In this project FAO worked in close collaboration with the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock Development and the districts' government agents throughout the process, from identifying beneficiaries to the actual distribution.
Gunasena Hewavitharana is a government agent in the southeastern district of Galle, one of the worst-affected areas. He is pleased with the collaboration with FAO and sees it as a success, especially since they managed to add some extra benefits for the affected farmers.
"Everything was delivered on time, which reduced the suffering," he says. "We also took the opportunity to add value by giving training in agricultural practice to the beneficiaries. In sum, the farmers lost a lot but gained skills."
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