The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) has released a landmark report, titled "The Impact of Disasters on Agriculture and Food Security," providing the first-ever global estimation of the devastating impact of disasters on agricultural production. The report reveals that over the last three decades, disasters have cost the world an estimated $3.8 trillion in crops and livestock production, equivalent to $123 billion annually or 5 percent of the global agricultural gross domestic product (GDP).
Agriculture's Vulnerability to Disasters
Agriculture, deeply intertwined with natural resources and climate conditions, is one of the most exposed and vulnerable sectors to disaster risk. FAO Director-General QU Dongyu highlights the critical importance of addressing this vulnerability, stating, "Recurrent disasters have the potential to erode gains in food security and undermine the sustainability of agrifood systems." To combat this, FAO emphasizes the need to improve data and information on disaster impacts across all agricultural subsectors.
Global Losses and Product Groups
The report underscores that lower and lower-middle-income countries have borne the brunt of disaster-related losses, with some experiencing up to 15 percent of their total agricultural GDP in losses. Small Island Developing States (SIDS) also faced significant losses, amounting to nearly 7 percent of their agricultural GDP.
Losses related to major agricultural products have been on the rise. Cereals, fruits, vegetables, and sugar crops have all seen increasing trends in losses. Cereals, for instance, suffered annual losses equivalent to France's entire cereal production in 2021. Similarly, fruits and vegetables experienced losses equivalent to Japan and Vietnam's combined production in 2021.
Regional Disparities and Cascading Impacts
While Asia witnessed the largest share of economic losses, Africa, Europe, and the Americas also felt the impact significantly. Interestingly, losses in Asia accounted for only 4 percent of agricultural added value, compared to nearly 8 percent in Africa. Subregional disparities further highlight the variability in losses. Disaster events have been on the rise, with climate-induced disasters exacerbating existing vulnerabilities. Hazards can produce cascading impacts across various systems and sectors, affecting livelihoods and food security. Factors like climate change, poverty, population growth, and unsustainable land use contribute to the complexity of disaster risks.
Building Resilience in Agrifood Systems
Small-scale farmers are the most vulnerable in agrifood systems, and they often bear the brunt of disaster impacts. The report emphasizes the importance of adopting farm-level disaster risk reduction practices to enhance resilience. Investment in these practices has demonstrated the potential to perform 2.2 times better than previous methods.
Proactive interventions and timely responses to forecasted hazards are crucial for building resilience. Anticipatory actions, when implemented, have shown favorable benefit-to-cost ratios, with rural families gaining up to $7 in benefits for every $1 invested. The report outlines three key priorities for action: improving data and information, mainstreaming multisectoral disaster risk reduction approaches, and enhancing investments in resilience to reduce disaster risk and improve agricultural production and livelihoods.