Quake caused ‘severe’ farm loss: minister

By Wing-Gar Cheng and William Bi, Bloomberg

BEIJING/CHENGDU — China’s deadliest earthquake in 32 years has caused “severe” damage to agricultural production in the nation’s third-most populous province of Sichuan, the Ministry of Agriculture said.

The 7.9 magnitude earthquake that struck May 12 damaged the region’s irrigation facilities and farmland, delayed harvest and raised the risk of spreading animal diseases, Vice Minister of Agriculture Wei Chaoan told reporters in Beijing Saturday.

The losses won’t lead to price increases or food shortages as production will be stepped up in other provinces to make up for any shortfall, he said. “The earthquake won’t disrupt the fundamental good shape of agricultural production in the country this year,” Wei said. “Supply of products such as grains and pork is secure and prices of agricultural produce will be stable.”

Sichuan, the epicenter of the quake, is China’s biggest pig breeder and one of the largest growers of rapeseed, the province’s main source of cooking oil, and rice. Reduced food output in Sichuan may further stoke inflation that is already near the fastest in more than a decade.

“This extraordinarily big earthquake caused severe losses to the disaster area’s agriculture,” Wei said. Many of the 13 worst-affected counties and cities are the “food basket” of the province, he said.

The earthquake damaged thousands of hectares of crops and killed more than 12 million farm animals, Wei said. The province may need to switch as much as 100,000 hectares of paddy fields to dry-land crops because irrigation systems have been wrecked, he said. Fertilizer production may be cut because plants shut down after the quake.

Supplies of fresh produce to the region face transportation hurdles, Zhang Yuxiang, the ministry’s top economist, told reporters at the same press conference.

The disaster may not hurt the country’s overall food supplies and raise prices because production is sufficient, she said. The ministry is “urgently” sourcing supplies from other provinces to help the disaster region, which will further stabilize prices, she said.