Blog Post

How Much Is Lost When Disaster Strikes? New FAO Report Looks at Impact on Agricultural Production, Food Security

Nearly US$ 4 trillion: That is the amount of global crop and livestock production the FAO estimates has been lost over the past three decades due to disaster events. According to the new report, “The impact of disasters on agriculture and food security,” this equates to an average loss of US$123 billion per year and as much as 5 percent of annual global agricultural GDP.

The report defines disasters as serious disruptions in the functioning of a community or society; this includes both natural disasters like climate change-driven extreme weather events and man-made disasters like civil unrest, conflict, and population displacement. Lower and middle-income countries have been the hardest hit by these disruptions over the past 30 years, losing as much as 15 percent of their total agricultural GDP. Small Island Developing States (SIDS) have also experienced high losses, as much as 7 percent of agricultural GDP.

The losses vary across commodities and also across regions, sub-regions, and country groups. For example, cereal production seems to have suffered the highest losses – an average of 69 million tonnes per year – followed by fruits and vegetables and sugar crops, at an average of 40 million tonnes per year. Meat, dairy products, and eggs showed average losses of 16 million tonnes per year.

Regionally, Asia suffered the largest share of total economic losses, while Africa experienced the most loss in terms of agricultural value added. Eastern and Northern Africa, the Caribbean, and sub-regions of Western Africa and South America all saw significant value-added losses.

The report also looks at the amount of energy and micronutrients lost for human consumption as a result of disaster-driven production deficits. An estimated 31 percent of all energy lost as a result of disaster-related crop and livestock losses occurred in Asia and the Americas, 24 percent in Europe, 11 percent in Africa, and 3 percent in Oceania.

Importantly, the report highlights that the impact of disasters on agricultural production around the world is likely even higher than estimated here, due to a lack of systemic loss data for fisheries, aquaculture, and forestry. This gap highlights the need for improved data and information on all agricultural sub-sectors in order to paint a more accurate picture.

In addition to the need for improved data, policymakers and researchers need to take a broader view of how the risks driving disaster events are interconnected. These risk factors include climate change, pandemics and epidemics, and armed conflict, all of which have increasingly affected agricultural production, agricultural value chains, and food security over the past three decades. By gaining a clearer understanding of how these risk factors relate and overlap, policymakers can better understand the trade-offs and opportunities that different policies present.

Such policies could include investing in and encouraging the widespread adoption of farm-level disaster risk reduction practices; this is especially important in regions dominated by smallholder farmers and rain-fed agricultural production. Such practices include the use of high-yield and stress-resistant crop varieties; composting, mulching, and the use of trenches and other soil and water conservation techniques; and improved access to veterinary care and livestock shelters. B investing in risk reduction at the farm level, the report found that smallholder farmers see their average production 2.2 times higher than that seen under non-risk-informed practices.

Farmers, policymakers, and other stakeholders also need to better anticipate risks and invest in proactive interventions to help prevent negative impacts on agriculture and food security. The report estimates that for every US$ invested in anticipatory action, rural households see up to US$ 7 in benefits, including prevented agricultural losses.