Disasters causing billions in agricultural losses, with drought leading the way

12 April 20183 min reading

Natural disasters such as drought, floods, earthquake and landslide cost developing countries $96 billion in damage to crops and livestock between 2005 and 2015, highlighting the need to step up protection for poor farmers, the United Nations said.


Natural disasters are costing farmers in the developing world billions of dollars each year, with drought emerging as the most destructive in a crowded field of threats that also includes floods, forest fires, storms, plant pests, animal diseases outbreaks, chemical spills and toxic algal blooms. According to a new report from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), between 2005 and 2015 natural disasters cost the agricultural sectors of developing country economies a staggering $96 billion in damaged or lost crop and livestock production. Half of that damage — $48 billion worth — occurred in Asia, says the report. Drought — which recently has battered farmers in all corners of the globe, North, South, East and West — was one of the leading culprits. Eighty-three percent of all drought-caused economic losses documented by FAO’s study were absorbed by agriculture, with a price tag of $29 billion. But the report also details how multiple other threats are taking a heavy toll on food production, food security, and people’s livelihoods. “The agriculture sectors — which includes crop and livestock production as well as forestry, fisheries and aquaculture — face many risks, such as climate and market volatility, pests and diseases, extreme weather events, and an ever-increasing number of protracted crises and conflicts,” said FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva. “Given the increasing scale and intensity of threats to agriculture, developing adequate disaster and crisis governance structures - including enabling policies, strengthened capacities and targeted financing mechanisms - is critical”, the report says.

THE GEOGRAPHY OF DISASTER In Asia — the world region where agriculture was most affected by disasters — floods and storms had the largest impacts, but Asian agricultural systems are also heavily affected by earthquakes, tsunamis and extreme temperatures. For both Africa as well as for Latin America and the Caribbean, drought is the costliest type of disaster — causing crop and livestock losses of $10.7 and $13 billion in those regions, respectively, between 2005 and 2015. Crop pests and animal diseases were also among the most expense-inducing disasters for African farmers, notching up $6+ billion in losses in that same period. The livelihoods of some 2.5 billion people on the planet depend on agriculture.These small-scale farmers, herders, fishers and forest-dependent communities generate more than half of the world’s agricultural production.

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