Tsunami boosts rice yields, agriculture in Aceh province
September 26, 2005
Receding waters from tsunami in Sri Lanka, December 26, 2004. Photo from DigitalGlobe
MEULABOH, Indonesia — From atop the coconut tree where he fled to escape the onrushing water, Muhammad Yacob watched the tsunami turn his rice paddy into a briny, debris-strewn swamp.
Nine months later, Yacob and his wife are harvesting their best-ever crop — despite fears that salt water had poisoned the land.
“The sea water turned out to be a great fertilizer,” said Yacob, 66, during a break from scything the green shoots and laying them in bunches on the stubble. “We are looking at yields twice as high as last year.”
A baby hippopotamus that survived the tsunami waves on the Kenyan coast has formed a strong bond with a giant male century-old tortoise, in an animal facility in the port city of Mombassa, officials said
In the Indonesian subdistrict of Lamno on the island of Sumatra, rapid reconstruction from the December tsunami’s swath of destruction is taking place by several intrepid private organizations. The Aceh province was hit the hardest out of all the areas affected by the tsunami. At first glance, this efficient and speedy rebuilding of homes, schools, churches and fishing boats seems like nothing but a reassuring progression into recovery. Upon closer inspection however, it is becoming clear that despite the good intention of the relief groups coordinating these efforts, the response to one tragic disaster may only be facilitating another. In this region on the west coast of the island, various aid organizations are using tropical hardwood timber that has been illegally harvested from nearby mountains to build structures for the local people. These individuals certainly need homes and livelihoods, which will be facilitated with the return of their fishing boats, but by using materials that negatively impact the local ecosystem on many levels, the stage for a new disaster is being set.
Two global conservation groups and the U.S. forest products industry have formed a unique partnership to help the tsunami-stricken people of Indonesia rebuild their lives without destroying the already threatened tropical forests of Sumatra.
According to an assessment released last week by Coral Cay Conservation — an not-for-profit organization based in London — coral reefs (more) suffered only minimal damage from last December’s Indian Ocean tsunami. The study found that, at worst, only 8% of pre-tsunami coral coverage will ultimately have been lost, even if all of the tsunami-damaged coral dies.
Rice, the region’s staple food, is not the only crop thriving on tsunami-affected land in Indonesia’s Aceh province, which suffered the worst damage and loss of life in the Dec. 26 disaster.
Farmers say vegetables, peanuts and fruit are also growing well, spurring hopes that agriculture in the still devastated region will recover faster than expected.
But bumper harvests for some mask a very precarious future for most farmers in areas where a massive offshore earthquake caused the sea to crash ashore, experts say.
According to U.N. surveys, 81 percent of the 116,000 acres of agricultural land damaged by tsunami waves in Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Maldives, India and Thailand is again cultivable.
But experts say much fertile land remains under water or sand churned up from the ocean floor. Waves and mud have destroyed or clogged countless drainage systems. So many villagers died that there is a shortage of labor to clear the land and replant.
Yacob says he has received no tsunami aid from the government, and sighs as he points to a mangled threshing machine, rusting where it was tossed by the tsunami waves.
Besides his rice crop, the father of eight lost 1,000 cocoa plants in the tsunami, and has no money for seedlings.
Recovery in the worst-hit areas may take three to five years, said Bart Dominicus of the U.N. tsunami response program.
The largest earthquake in 40 years sent 60-foot waves crashing into coastal communities in Aceh and more than five miles inland. Of the 178,000 who died in the 11 tsunami-hit countries on the Indian Ocean rim, 130,000 victims were in Aceh province.
Nearly 50,000 acres of Aceh farmland were damaged, the local government estimates.
In the weeks after, many scientists warned it would take years until crops could be planted, noting that fields flooded with salt water usually become unsuitable for most types of cultivation.
“When I first got here there were preliminary figures booted about that half of the land would be lost,” said Helen Bradbury, an agriculturalist with Mercy Corps, a U.S.-based charity. “But I wasn’t so sure and neither were the farmers.”
In at least some cases, their hunch proved correct.
Fields of lush, green rice now dot the coast, and surveys by the U.N. agency paint a more optimistic picture.
Researchers say high rainfall in most Indian Ocean countries washed out the salt quicker than expected. Higher yields in some plots are explained by rich top soil and the composting effect of other organic matter dumped by the tsunami.
“I am not sure the effect will last long, but for now it is a sort of tsunami bonus,” said Bradbury.
The rice harvest is helping to restore some of the pre-tsunami rhythms of life to the countryside, where men like Yacob have farmed for 30 years and more. But it is still littered with damaged buildings and tent camps housing tens of thousands of survivors.
Men and women wearing wide-brimmed hats stand knee-deep in mud during long days of planting and harvesting. Villagers cycle to the fields and smoke from burning stubble makes for blazing sunsets.
The U.N.’s World Food Program says it still expects to be feeding around 750,000 tsunami victims well into next year.
And life remains tough even for farmers with fields full of crops.
Sur Salami has never grown corn higher — his plants stand two feet taller than him. But when heavy rain coincides with a high tide, around half of his 5 1/2-acre plot floods. He says it never did before, and blames the tsunami for changing the coastline.
“The sea is around 50 yards closer now,” he said. “But we cannot lose hope. Whom can I complain to, anyhow?”
Source: Associated Press
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