Wed, Aug 22, 2012 - Page 8 News List

Disasters need not be disastrous

By Du Yu 杜宇

It is awful seeing farmers looking out over their ruined crops after a natural disaster. This feeling of sadness is intermingled with a sense of guilt. While it is true that natural disasters are both difficult to predict and unavoidable, the damage and the loss they inflict could be reduced if the government was prepared.

Indeed, the degree of preparedness is one way to judge how competent a government is. At the moment the government’s main method for addressing natural disasters is to provide disaster relief after the event. However, this offers limited help to farmers, who want to get back to work. The government needs to be pro-active in this regard.

First, modernizing farming facilities is one way in which damage could be reduced. The use of greenhouses is a case in point. Greenhouses come with the added benefit of making the day-to-day management of farms easier. However, greenhouses require a significant outlay and — with the exception of larger farms or those growing high-value crops — the majority of farmers still use the field crop cultivation model. As such, they consistently suffer heavier losses than those farmers with greenhouses. While nobody is claiming that greenhouse agriculture could completely protect crops, it could, however, reduce the damage done by a considerable degree.

Rather than doling out disaster relief after the damage has been inflicted, it would be better to provide systematic support for farmers who are open to adopting the greenhouse business model — providing them with appropriate subsidies and making low-interest loans available to them. This would not only reduce the risk of losses and encourage insurance companies to be more willing to cover farmers, it would also reduce the huge amounts of cash that flow out of the nation’s coffers every year as a result of disaster relief.

Second, disaster prevention should have a heavier weighting in the annual performance reviews of agricultural testing and research institutions. Government-run agricultural research facilities have always emphasized the importance of research and development in honing agricultural technologies. However, in recent years their attention has been diverted by performance reviews and awards.

They are no longer focused on solving problems that farmers must cope with, such as droughts or the high mortality rate among abalone, for one example. This has created a gap between the research being done and the actual needs of farm and fisheries production. It would be better for these institutions to focus again on developing techniques to tackle natural disaster and also production technologies and methods. These would all be of practical use to farmers, helping them strengthen their ability to deal with natural disasters and allow them to benefit from this research at no cost to themselves.

In future, promotion evaluations should be based not just on the number of patents one obtains nor the performance of technology transfers, but on providing a service to the public, solving farmers’ problems and tailoring research more to the needs of farmers.

Third, the government needs to promote an agricultural natural disaster insurance system. There are several reasons that agricultural insurance abroad can be considered successful, including the existence of a comprehensive agricultural production database, the implementation of a system for declaring agricultural production figures, a comprehensive set of laws governing insurance for farmers, government-run farming insurance schemes and the establishment of agricultural natural disaster insurance funds.

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