Chinese earthquake caused $6b damage to agriculture in Sichuan

Posted by Isobel Drake on 1st July 2008

The agricultural sector in China’s Sichuan province has suffered enormous damage estimated at around $6 billion caused by last month’s devastating earthquake, the FAO (UN Food and Agriculture Organisation) said overnight.According to an FAO assessment mission that recently visited Sichuan province, over 30 million people in rural communities have been severely hit, losing most of their assets. Thousands of hectares of farmland were destroyed, millions of farm animals died, houses and grain stores collapsed and thousands of pieces of agricultural machinery were damaged.

“In addition to the human tragedy caused by the disaster – mainly the loss of family members – many rural communities in Sichuan province have lost their means to produce food and create income,” said Rajendra Aryal, FAO Senior Regional Emergency Coordinator.

“People in the villages have demonstrated great resilience and have expressed their strong willingness to return back to their fields and resume farming and food production. It will probably take three to five years to rebuild the agricultural sector in Sichuan,” Aryal added.

A significant portion of wheat crops could not be harvested after the earthquake due to the lack of labour as a result of deaths and injuries in farming families. Much of the wheat that was harvested before the earthquake — around 350 000 tonnes in Mianyang Prefecture, one of the areas hit by the quake — was damaged with the collapse of grain storages.

Shortages of pesticides and fertilizers are jeopardizing future food production, according to the FAO. In addition, thousands of greenhouses have collapsed causing severe losses of vegetable crops. Major seed growing areas in the province, producing up to 20 percent of China’s rice seeds, have been badly hit by the earthquake with more than 20,000 hectares affected. Rice fields have dried up due to cracks and craters and irrigation systems have been interrupted. In some villages, up to 70 percent of rice fields have been damaged.

Over three million pigs have been killed by the earthquake, with some villages having lost up to 70 percent of their livestock. Overall livestock losses are estimated at about $2 billion.

Mr Aryal adds that international aid is desperately needed to improve the current situation. “Urgent provision of fertilizers, pesticides, farm tools and machinery, livestock and reclaiming damaged fields will be the main challenge for the next six months,” he said.

The Chinese authorities have asked FAO to coordinate the agricultural rehabilitation efforts in Sichuan province.

The unwelcome news comes amid concerns about the price of food which have already seen riots in some countries and, more recently, led to the Mexican Government announcing a freeze on the prices of more than 150 food prices until December 31.