Agriculture bears major brunt of disaster impacts

Nearly a quarter of damages wrought by natural disasters on the developing world are borne by the agricultural sector. Building resilience of livelihoods to threats and crises must therefore be the top priority, FAO demands.

Twenty-two per cent of all damages inflicted by natural hazards such as drought, floods storms or tsunamis are registered within the agriculture sector. This is the result of an analysis by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of 78 post-disaster needs assessments in 48 developing countries spanning the 2003–2013 period. These damages and losses are often incurred by poor rural and semi-rural communities without insurance and lacking the financial resources needed to regain lost livelihoods. Yet just 4.5 per cent of post-disaster humanitarian aid in the 2003–2013 period targeted agriculture.

 The 22 per cent figure only represents damages reported via post-disaster risk assessments, so while indicative of scale, the actual impact is likely even higher, the authors of the report ‘The Impact of Natural hazards and disasters on agriculture and food security and nutrition’ maintain. To arrive at a closer estimate of the true financial cost of disasters for agriculture in the developing world, FAO compared decreases in yields during and after disasters with yield trends in 67 countries affected by (at least one) medium- to larger-scale events between 2003 and 2013. It established the sum of 70 billion US dollars (USD) in damages to crops and livestock over that ten-year period. 82 per cent of production losses were caused by drought (44 %) and floods (39 %).
 Asia was the most affected region, with estimated losses adding up to 28 billion USD, followed by Africa at 26 billion. Between 2003 and 2013, there were 61 drought years in sub-Saharan Africa, affecting 27 countries and 150 million people. FAO estimates that 77 per cent of all agricultural production losses suffered world-wide due to drought occurred in those 27 Sub-Saharan countries, adding up to 23.5 billion USD.

“Agriculture and all that it encompasses is not only critical for our food supply, it also remains a main source of livelihoods across the planet. While it is a sector at risk, agriculture also can be the foundation upon which we build societies that are more resilient and better equipped to deal with disasters,” said FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva. “This is why building resilience of livelihoods to threats and crises is one of FAO's top priorities,” de Silva added, presenting report.

Economic power goes lost

Worldwide, the livelihoods of 2.5 billion people depend on agriculture. These small-scale farmers, herders, fishers and forest-dependent communities generate more than half of global agricultural production and are particularly at risk from disasters that destroy or damage harvests, equipment, supplies, livestock, seeds, crops and stored food.

Beyond the obvious consequences for peoples’ food security, the economies and development trajectories of entire regions and nations can be altered when disasters hit agriculture. The sector accounts for as much as 30 per cent of national GDP in countries like Burkina Faso, Burundi, Central African Republic, Chad, Ethiopia, Kenya, Mali, Mozambique and the Niger, among others.

There are also spill-over losses in agriculture-dependent subsectors, and significant consequences for trade flows. Countries surveyed experienced an increase in agriculture imports to the tune of 18.9 billion USD and a decrease in agriculture exports of 14.9 billion USD following natural disasters, between 2003 and 2013.

Some key findings

  • Based on the damages in 78 post-disaster risk assessments in 48 countries, total damages of 140 billion USD were reported (2003-2013) for all economic sectors, 30 billion USD of which to agriculture (crops, livestock, forestry, fisheries).
  • Within the agricultural sector, 42 per cent of assessed losses were to crops (13 billion USD), with floods the main culprit, responsible for 60 per cent of crop damages, followed by storms (23 %).
  • Livestock is the second most affected subsector, accounting for 36 per cent of all damage and losses, amounting to 11 billion USD during the 2003-2013 period.
  • Out of the 78 disasters assessed, 45 involved impacts to the fisheries subsector (1.7 billion USD or 6 per cent all damages borne by the agricultural sector). The lion’s share – 70 per cent – was caused by tsunamis, typically infrequent events. Storms such as hurricanes and typhoons account for roughly 16 per cent of the economic impact on fisheries, followed by floods (10 %).
  • The forestry sector incurred 737 million USD in damages and losses, representing 2.4 per cent of the total for the agricultural sector.

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