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Agriculture Ministry: Quake Damages Crops

The earthquake in southwest China has seriously affected agricultural production in Sichuan and other disaster-hit regions, said a senior official from the Ministry of Agriculture on Saturday.

The quake, which triggered landslides in the mountainous province, damaged 33,333 hectares of farmland, including more than10,000 hectares of wheat and rape and more than 20,000 hectares of vegetables, in the 13 worst-hit cities and counties, said Wei Chaoan, Vice Agriculture Minister.

As the disaster also destroyed irritation systems in some areas, up to 100,000 hectares of rice paddies might have to be used to grow alternative crops, he said.

"A large amount of farming facilities, including more than 20,000 farm machines, were damaged," Wei said. He admitted the repair work would be "very difficult".

As the country's leading agricultural province, Sichuan provided 6 percent of the nation's total grain output, including 5percent of the national total summer grains, 8 percent of the total oil crops and 5 percent of the total vegetable production, said Wei.

He said the 12.5 million head of livestock killed in the quake were mostly poultry. The poultry losses were a small fraction of the 1.5 billion birds that the province aimed to produce in 2008.

Wei said the quake had limited impact on farm production nationwide, adding he had "full confidence" in the steady national supply of grain and other major products and to keep the prices stable.

He said the ministry compensate for the agricultural losses by stepping up production in other areas and closely monitor farm produce supplies in the affected areas.

Zhang Yuxiang, an official in charge of the ministry's market and economic division, said farm produce prices nationwide remain almost the same as before the quake.

The supply of vegetables was adequate as farmers nationwide had planted more after the severe winter weather in January, she said.

The death toll from the earthquake, measuring 7.8 on the Richter scale on Monday, rose to 28,881 nationwide as of 2:00 PM on Saturday, while 198,347 people were injured, according to the Information Office of the State Council.

(Xinhua News Agency May 17, 2008)

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