Unveiling the Profound Impact of Disasters on Agriculture: A $3.8 Trillion Loss Over 30 Years

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A recently released report “THE IMPACT OF DISASTERS ON AGRICULTURE AND FOOD SECURITY” by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) has provided the first-ever global assessment of the impact of disasters on agriculture, with a particular focus on crops and livestock. Over the past three decades, these disasters have resulted in approximately $3.8 trillion in losses, equating to an annual average loss of $123 billion or 5 percent of the global agricultural gross domestic product (GDP).
The report underscores that this figure could be higher if data on losses in other agricultural subsectors like fisheries, aquaculture, and forestry were available. It highlights the critical need for better data collection and information on the impact of disasters across all agricultural subsectors to create a foundation for effective action and decision-making.
Agriculture is especially vulnerable to disaster risks due to its reliance on natural resources and climate conditions. Recurring disasters can jeopardize food security and the sustainability of agrifood systems. The report emphasizes the importance of integrating disaster risk management into agricultural policies and practices.
The report reveals that lower and lower-middle-income countries have experienced the most significant relative losses, with disasters causing up to 15 percent of their total agricultural GDP. Small Island Developing States (SIDS) have also been heavily impacted, losing nearly 7 percent of their agricultural GDP.
In terms of specific agricultural products, the report shows increasing trends in losses. Cereals have suffered the most substantial losses, averaging 69 million tonnes annually, equivalent to France’s entire cereal production in 2021. Fruits and vegetables, as well as sugar crops, have each experienced losses of around 40 million tonnes annually. Meats, dairy products, and eggs have seen an average estimated loss of 16 million tonnes per year.
When it comes to regional disparities, Asia has borne the highest share of economic losses, followed by Africa, Europe, and the Americas. However, Asia’s losses only accounted for 4 percent of agricultural added value, while in Africa, they represented nearly 8 percent. There
was significant variability among subregions.
Disaster events have been on the rise, increasing from 100 per year in the 1970s to around 400 events annually worldwide in the past two decades. Their impact is expected to worsen due to climate-induced disasters and other risk factors.
The report emphasizes that disasters can trigger cascading impacts across various systems and sectors, driven by factors like climate change, poverty, population growth, and environmental degradation. Small-scale farmers, especially those relying on rain-fed agriculture, are the most vulnerable to disaster impacts. Investing in farm-level disaster risk reduction practices can significantly enhance their resilience, with a 2.2 times better performance compared to previous methods.
Proactive interventions in response to forecasted hazards are crucial for building resilience and reducing risks in agriculture. For example, anticipatory actions have demonstrated favorable benefit-to-cost ratios, with every $1 invested in anticipatory measures potentially resulting in upto $7 in benefits and avoided agricultural losses.
The report outlines three key priorities for action: improving data and information collection for all agricultural subsectors, integrating multi-hazard disaster risk reduction approaches into policies and programs, and increasing investments in resilience to reduce disaster risk in agriculture while enhancing agricultural production and livelihoods.