Farmers lost $3.8 trillion to disasters over 30 years: FAO’s first-ever global estimation

Proactive and timely interventions in response to predicted hazards are crucial to build resilience, the report notes

By Shagun
Published: Friday 13 October 2023
Representative photo: iStock_

An estimated $3.8 trillion worth of crops and livestock production has been lost due to natural disasters over the last 30 years, with Asia experiencing the largest share of the total economic losses, according to a report by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

The loss corresponded to an average of $123 billion per year, or 5 per cent of annual global agricultural gross domestic product (GDP). This is the first-ever global estimation of the impact of disasters on agricultural production focused on crops and livestock.

Losses related to major agricultural products were showing increasing trends — losses in cereals amounted to an average of 69 million tonnes per year in the last three decades. This corresponds to the entire cereal production of France in 2021, the report The Impact of Disasters on Agriculture and Food Security pointed out.

Losses in cereals were followed by fruits and vegetables and sugar crops, with each witnessing average losses of 40 million tonnes per year. For fruits and vegetables, losses corresponded to the entire production of fruits and vegetables in Japan and Vietnam in 2021.

Meats, dairy products and eggs showed an average estimated loss of 16 million tonnes per year, corresponding to the whole production of meats, dairy products and eggs in Mexico and India in 2021.

The report noted the loss figures may be higher if systematic data on losses in the fisheries, aquaculture and forestry subsectors were available.

Meanwhile, global losses masked significant variability across regions, subregions and country groups. Along with Asia, Africa, Europe and the Americas also displayed a similar order of magnitude. However, losses in Asia only accounted for 4 per cent of the agricultural added value, while in Africa, they corresponded to nearly 8 per cent. The variability was even higher across subregions.

Overall, over the last three decades, disasters inflicted the highest relative losses on lower and lower-middle-income countries, up to 15 per cent of their total agricultural GDP. Disasters also significantly impacted Small Island Developing States, causing them to lose nearly 7 per cent of their agricultural GDP.

“Agriculture is one of the most highly exposed and vulnerable sectors in the context of disaster risk, given its profound dependence on natural resources and climate conditions. Recurrent disasters have the potential to erode gains in food security and undermine the sustainability of agrifood systems,” said FAO Director-General QU Dongyu in the foreword to the report.

Towards greater resilience

Disaster events have increased from 100 per year in the 1970s to around 400 events per year worldwide in the past 20 years. Farmers, particularly smallholders farming under rain-fed conditions, are the most vulnerable actors in the agrifood systems and bear the brunt of disaster impacts.

Proactive and timely interventions in response to forecasted hazards are crucial to build resilience by preventing and reducing risks in agriculture. The report showed that, for every $1 invested in anticipatory action, rural families can gain up to $7 in benefits and avoid agricultural losses.

The report outlines three key priorities for action: Improving data and information on the impacts of disasters on all subsectors of agriculture — crops, livestock, fisheries and aquaculture and forestry; developing and mainstreaming multisectoral and multi-hazard disaster risk reduction approaches into policy and programming at all levels; and enhancing investments in resilience that provide benefits in reducing disaster risk in agriculture and improve agricultural production and livelihoods.

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