2. The case for building agricultural resilience

Disasters – whether natural- or human-induced, have significant impacts on people, communities and countries. Beyond their immediate, short-term effects, disasters can also substantially set economies back and can undermine national development gains that have taken decades to build. Moreover, disasters respect no boundaries – they affect both developed and developing countries.

At the global level, the number of natural hazard-induced disasters, including geophysical, hydrological, meteorological as well as biological disasters, such as outbreaks of animal and plant pests and diseases, have steadily increased from the 1970s onwards (CRED and UNDRR, 2016[1]; FAO, 2021[2]). Natural hazard-induced disasters in particular have significantly increased, from 4 212 events during 1980-1999 period to 7 348 events between 2000-2019 (CRED and UNDRR, 2020[3]).

An increasing trend can also be observed in recent decades regarding the weather- and climate-related disasters. These types of disasters include, for example, drought, extreme temperatures, storms, heavy rainfall events and floods. It is estimated that during these two periods of 1980-1999 and 2000-2019, around 87% and 91% of the total number of natural hazard-induced disasters were weather- and climate-related. The number of people affected by these types of disasters has increased – from 3.25 billion in 1980-1999 to 4.03 billion people in 2000-2019, while the economic losses caused amounted to USD 2.97 trillion in 2000-2019, compared to USD 1.63 trillion1 in 1980-1999 (CRED and UNDRR, 2020[3]). These figures mainly reflect the occurrence of rapid-onset and large-scale disasters, while slow-onset hazards and sub-national, localized or small-scale disasters are generally not included. As a result, the actual number of disasters therefore lies higher than those reported.

It is expected that with climate change, weather- and climate-related disasters will further increase in frequency and severity (IPCC, 2012[4]). Due to the climate sensitivity of agriculture, the sector is already negatively impacted, as a result of damage to, and destruction of agricultural-related infrastructure, and losses in crops, livestock, forestry, fisheries and aquaculture production (FAO, 2016[5]). Also, plant and animal pests and diseases are expected to rise due to climate change, extreme weather events and seasonal variability, and are already impacting the sector, food security and agricultural livelihoods (Box 2.1) (FAO, 2005[6]).

Moreover, the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) has globally spread and has devastated lives, livelihoods and economies worldwide. The COVID-19 pandemic unfolded on top of other shocks and stresses, such as floods, storms, earthquakes, droughts and desert locusts. Some of these disasters are linked or aggravated by the effects of climate change, which will further increase the exposure and vulnerabilities of people, societies and economies. The pandemic has shown the changing risk environment, as well as the systemic and overlaying nature of risks that have cascading adverse impacts on all sectors, including agriculture and food systems. Hence, the need for multi-hazard and multi-sectoral preventive and anticipatory approaches that ensure the integration of disaster, climate and crisis risk management to strengthen the resilience of people, their agricultural livelihoods and the ecosystems they depend upon (Khim, 202[8]).

As natural hazard-induced disasters have become more frequent and severe over the past decades, these events have resulted in increasing economic losses worldwide. For instance, for the first time globally, annual economic losses from disasters surpassed USD 100 billion during the three consecutive years of 2010-2012, and far exceeded humanitarian aid. While absolute economic losses are higher in developed countries, the impacts of natural hazard-induced disasters on developing countries are more significant. For instance, the costs of the 2011 East Japan 9.0-magnitude earthquake were among the highest in history at around USD 200 billion, equivalent to 3% of Japan’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP), while the costs of the 2010 earthquake in Haiti were around USD 14 billion, equivalent to 160% of Haiti’s GDP. Moreover, while disasters affect everyone, the most affected are the vulnerable people who are less able to cope with and recover from their impacts, due to their lack or limited access to and control over resources (Oxfam International, 2013[9]; UNISDR, 2013[10]).

Natural hazard-induced disasters are a leading cause of food insecurity (FAO, IFAD, UNICEF, WFP, and WHO, 2018[11]). The impact of these disasters extend beyond the economic realm – they destroy food, and people’s ability to produce, access and intake of food, which affect all four dimensions of food security through reducing the availability of food; limiting physical and socio-economic access to food; affecting food utilisation, which refers to the body's ability to absorb the nutrients in food that is consumed; and, disasters undermine food stability at all times, as access, availability and utilisation of food are disrupted (FAO, 2008[12]).

According to the FAO study (2021[2]),2 the agricultural sector absorbed between 2008 and 2018, 26% of the overall impacts caused by medium- to large-scale disasters in least developed countries (LDCs) and in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs). During this period, around USD 108.5 billion was lost alone due to declines in crop and livestock production in LDCs and LMICs as a result of disasters (Figure 2.1). While across all income groups, including in the upper-middle income countries (UMICs) and high-income countries (HICs), loss in crop and livestock production amounted to USD 280 billion.

The FAO study (2021[2]) also revealed that if the crop and livestock production loss in LDCs and LMICs is converted into nutritional values, a total of 6.9 trillion kilocalories per year is lost, which equals the annual calorie intake of 7 million adults. These figures disaggregate to a loss of 559 calories per capita per day during this ten-year period, which is 20% of the recommended daily allowance (RDA) in Africa, 40% of RDA (or 975 calories per capita per day) in Latin America and the Caribbean, and 11% of RDA (or 283 calories per capita per day) in Asia.

In addition, these natural hazard-induced disasters can severely disrupt global supply chains, thereby affecting market access, trade, food supply and access, which can in turn reduce incomes, deplete savings and erode livelihoods. In addition, disasters can substantially impact supply chains, even when a disaster occurs in another part of the world. As supply chains are increasing global, connected and linked, these are thus increasingly exposed to disaster risks (UNISDR, 2013[10]). Moreover, the effect of disasters on food prices can also be significant. For instance, the continuous increase in agricultural commodity prices between 2002 and 2011 resulted in the value of the FAO Food Price Index more than doubling. This was the result of various factors, including biofuel policies, export restrictions, speculations, low food stocks as well as the occurrence of several disasters, such as the three droughts in Australia from 2001 to 2007 and a heatwave during the summer of 2010 in Central Asia (FAO, 2009[13]; Caldecott, Howarth and McSharry, 2013[14]).

According to the international disaster database EM-DAT, at the global level, floods occurred the most frequently during 2000-2019 (44% of natural hazard-induced disasters), followed by storms (28%), earthquakes (8%), extreme temperatures (6%), and landslides and drought (5%). In terms of the impacts of these disasters on people, floods affected the largest number of people (41% of total people affected), followed by drought (35%), storms (18%) and earthquakes (3%) (CRED and UNDRR, 2020[3]).

At present, a global study on the impact of different types of disasters on agriculture does not exist. However, according to the FAO study (2021[2]) that assessed the impact of disasters in LDCs and LMICs between 2008 and 2018, the seven major types of disasters that adversely impacted agricultural production systems were drought, followed by floods, storms, earthquakes/landslides/mass movements, plant and animal pests/diseases, extreme temperatures, and wildfires (Figure 2.2).

Drought is the single greatest cause of agricultural production losses.3 Over 34% of crop and livestock production losses in LDCs and LMICs are due to drought, costing the sector USD 37 billion overall between 2008 and 2018. Agriculture is the sector that is thus most affected by droughts, and absorbed 82% of all drought impacts, compared to 18% in all other sectors during this period (FAO, 2021[2]).

The impacts of natural hazard-induced disasters on agriculture – including the type and magnitude of natural hazard-induced disasters – vary by region. During the 2008-2018 period, drought caused the largest crop and livestock production losses in Africa (over USD 14 billion), followed by losses due to plant and animal pests and diseases (USD 6.5 billion). Overall, the impact of drought on agriculture was also the greatest in the Latin American and the Caribbean region (USD 13 billion in crop and livestock production loss), followed by storms (USD 6 billion). In contrast, in Asia, geophysical disasters caused the highest amount of losses (USD 11.4 billion), closely followed by floods (USD 11 billion) and storms (USD 10 billion) (Figure 2.3).

Estimates of the economic costs of natural hazard-induced disasters provide an insight into the potential magnitude of the impacts in some developed countries, such as:

  • In Australia, total agricultural losses arising from bushfires in 2009 were estimated at AUD 733 million. The combined agricultural losses from flooding and a cyclone in 2011 were estimated at AUD 1.4 billion (Productivity Commission, 2014[15]).

  • In the United States, a severe drought in 2012 was estimated to have caused around USD 40 billion crop and livestock losses (WEF, 2014[16]), while the 2014 drought caused direct losses of around USD 1.5 billion and total economic losses of USD 2.2 billion (Munich Re, 2015[17]), 2015[17]). It is estimated that on average, over the last 110 years, 10-20% of the country annually experiences moderate to extreme drought (Wilhite, Svoboda and Hayes, 2005[18]).

  • In Europe, natural hazard-induced disasters have resulted in economic losses of USD 550 million between 1980-2019, of which around 81% of the total losses was caused by climate- and weather-related extreme events (EEA, 2020[19]). Due to the warming trend over the last four decades, the region has experienced more frequent droughts that have substantially impacted the agriculture sector. The drought that occurred from April to November in 2018 was declared by the German government as a crisis of national proportions as the prices of some vegetables increased by 30% (DW, 2020[20]; Reuters, 2020[21]).

The cost to governments of providing post-disaster relief to agricultural producers can also be significant. For instance, during the 2000-2019 period, China and the United States provided an annual average of USD 1.7 billion and USD 1.6 billion, respectively, while the EU Member States provided an annual average of USD 1.2 billion (OECD, 2020[22]).

Due to the increasing frequency and intensity of natural hazard-induced disasters – and particularly climate related events – that adversely impact agriculture and food security, it is of utmost importance that the extent and causes of disaster impacts are better understood and quantified. This will help to assess the benefits of the disaster risk reduction investments made by farmers as well as public and private investments in the sector. Thus, a sound evidence base on disaster impacts on agriculture and food security can help to develop tailored and effective resilience policies, inform cost-effective disaster risk reduction/management interventions and track progress towards the targets set under the relevant international frameworks, including the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030, the Paris Agreement, and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development with its 17 Sustainable Development Goals.

The key disaster risk management terms are defined in Box 2.1.

The following section outlines the key disaster risk management elements and provides examples of agricultural-related actions for each.

In order to reduce disaster risk and increase resilience to disasters, it is important to implement disaster risk management (DRM) actions. The disaster risk management framework considers DRM as a continuum, thus an ongoing process of interrelated actions, which are initiated before, during and after a disaster has occurred. The aim of DRM actions is to strengthen the capacities and resilience of people and communities to protect their lives and livelihoods, by undertaking measures to avoid the creation of new risks (prevention), reduce existing risks and mitigate their impacts (risk reduction/mitigation) and build capacities to be better prepared for response and recovery (preparedness), including the integration of ‘building back better’ activities with the aim of addressing the root causes of vulnerabilities and risks.

In this section, the following key elements of the disaster risk management framework for agriculture will be described:

  • Disaster risk governance

  • Risk identification, assessment and awareness

  • Prevention and mitigation

  • Preparedness for response and recovery

  • Emergency response

  • Recovery, rehabilitation and reconstruction

These key elements of the DRM framework directly correspond to the four priorities for action of the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction (SFDRR) 2015-2030, which particularly focuses on significantly reducing disaster risks. Implementing disaster risk reduction measures is key in order to ensure that potential hazardous events will not evolve into disasters.

Disaster risk governance is defined as “the system of institutions, mechanisms, policy and legal frameworks and other arrangements to guide, coordinate and oversee disaster risk reduction and related areas of policy” (UNDRR, 2021[23]). Governance for DRM in agriculture includes the mainstreaming of DRR/M into sectoral laws, policies, plans and strategies and equally for national and local DRR/M laws, policies, plans and strategies to be cross-sectoral in nature and prioritise agriculture as one of the sectors to implement DRR/M interventions. It also requires the alignment and coordination between different climate change, food security, social protection and development plans, policies and strategies and to ensure that vulnerable agricultural households have access to projects and programmes that aim to reduce their vulnerabilities and risks, and contribute to ensure their food and nutrition security and sustainable livelihoods (FAO, 2008[24]; Koloffon and VonLoeben, 2019[25]).

In addition, governance for DRM in agriculture requires clear vision, competence, guidance and coordination within the sector and across other related sectors – such as water and energy – as well as the participation of all relevant stakeholders. It requires that the roles and responsibilities of institutions be outlined in DRR/M and sectoral laws and policies so that their mandates are enforced and clear synergies are drawn among the various agriculture-relevant stakeholders. Moreover, the establishment of horizontal and vertical coordination mechanisms (between the various governance levels – national to local and vice versa), as well as institutional inter-linkages within and between sectoral agencies, are important to deliver DRM in a systemic and consistent manner. These coordination mechanisms and inter-institutional linkages are also key to ensuring appropriate channeling of resources and information, among others (FAO, 2008[24]; Koloffon and VonLoeben, 2019[25]).

As an example, disaster risk governance can be strengthened by focusing on developing legal and policy frameworks, and other arrangements that enable institutions and other relevant stakeholders to perform their functions effectively and efficiently to deliver DRR/M. In this respect, it is important to take advantage of opportunities for cooperation and collaboration, avoid duplication of efforts to deliver risk sensitive actions across all sectors and at all levels (FAO, 2008[24]).

An understanding of disaster risks, including risk drivers and underlying risk factors, is highly important in order to better understand risks, vulnerabilities and coping capacities of exposed farming communities, and to inform policies, strategies, and plans for the implementation of specific DRR/M interventions (UNISDR, 2017[26]). Risk identification for the agriculture sector involves conducting multi-hazard, vulnerability and risk assessments to determine the nature and extent of risk by analyzing potential hazards, their location, intensity, frequency and probability as well as assessing existing conditions of exposure and vulnerability, including the physical, socio-economic and environmental dimensions, and to evaluate the effectiveness of existing and alternative coping capacities within potential risk scenarios (UNISDR, 2009[27]). In order to identify and monitor hazards and risks, data and information systems for DRM need to be in place, available and accessible. This includes multi-risk and vulnerability profiles and sector-specific maps where the risks, vulnerabilities and exposure of farming communities and of the sector are identified and prioritized to inform and enhance decision-making and planning capacities for the agricultural sector (FAO, 2008[24]).

Another important element of understanding risks and reducing the underlying vulnerabilities of the agriculture sector is knowledge sharing and awareness raising. These activities proactively inform agricultural producers and their communities how to reduce existing vulnerabilities and how to prevent or mitigate current and future risks (FAO, 2008[24]). It includes enhanced outreach to farmers and their communities through information events, campaigns and trainings aimed to enhance disaster risk reduction planning as part of institutional capacity building. This includes education and training to demonstrate, validate and replicate agricultural good practices and technologies that help to reduce vulnerabilities and contribute to mitigate the adverse impacts of natural hazard-induced disasters on agriculture. Another example is the use of seasonal forecasts and advisories to help farmers to make appropriate decisions, such as adjusting their cultivation practices or selecting more drought-tolerant varieties in order to ensure their food security and incomes (FAO, 2013[28]).

Prevention and mitigation activities aim to avoid and lessen or minimize the adverse impacts of a hazardous event, and therefore reduce risks (UNDRR, 2021[23]). Vulnerability reduction measures for the agriculture sector include, for example, the implementation of agricultural good practices and technologies at the farm level, such as the use of crop, livestock and tree varieties that are more resilient to floods, droughts or saline conditions; the use of soil and water conservation practices, like conservation agriculture; mulching; the vaccination of livestock against certain animal diseases; fodder conservation; (community) seed storage; livestock shelters; agroforestry; as well as diversification of farmers’ income sources through livelihoods diversification. These strategies can help to decrease vulnerability to production failure due to the negative impacts of natural hazard-induced disasters (FAO, 2013[28]).

In addition, the implementation of shock-responsive risk transfer mechanisms, including e.g., social protection schemes and risk insurance, can help to reduce people’s vulnerabilities and exposure to financial impacts, as well as underlying risks to food and nutrition insecurity (Glauber et al., 2021[29]). Risk-informed social protection schemes can provide cash or in-kind support (i.e. food or agricultural assets), conditionally or unconditionally, which can help to improve farmers’ welfare and livelihoods through reducing cash, savings and liquidity constraints. These schemes can thus protect assets and livelihoods to help better manage risks. In addition, it can assist producers’ organizations or farmers’ cooperatives to manage contingency funds, savings and loan schemes as well as risk-sharing schemes (i.e. grain reserves, warehouse receipt systems and revolving funds) In contrast, insurance, such as crop insurance and weather index-based insurance can help spread the risk of income loss to farmers and it can help to avoid farmers from having to sell their assets (i.e. crops, livestock) as a coping strategy after the negative impacts of a disaster (FAO, 2013[28]).

Increasing disaster risk means there is a need to strengthen capacities in proactive disaster preparedness for response and recovery at all levels. Preparedness for response and recovery focuses on the knowledge and capacities to effectively anticipate, monitor and be prepared to respond to and recover from the impacts of disasters, and helps to ensure orderly transitions from disaster response to a sustained and resilient recovery. It also involves a sound understanding of disaster risks as well as strong linkages with single or multi-hazard early warning systems in order to enhance the capacity to predict, monitor and ability to act early and quickly when needed. The implementation of adequate and disaster risk-informed preparedness measures before a disaster occurs includes strengthening response capacities of individuals, communities and relevant stakeholder organisations, and can help make response actions more effective, efficient and timely, and can save lives and livelihoods (UNISDR, 2008[30]).

Examples of preparedness activities in the agriculture sector include national and local preparedness planning, specific contingency planning, simulation drills and exercises, stockpiling of equipment and supplies, establishment of coordination mechanisms for evacuation, rapid risk assessment, dissemination of public information (UNISDR, 2009[27]; FAO, 2013[28]). It also includes the regular monitoring and improved forecasting – that is, predicting the timing and likelihood that a hazard occurs – linked to the dissemination of timely, reliable and accurate single/multi-hazard early warnings to enable farmers, their communities and other stakeholders to make risk-informed decisions and implement early actions to help protect agriculture-related assets and property, as well as critical on-farm and community-based infrastructure. These anticipatory actions may include pre-allocation of inputs, and moving supplies, people, or livestock (FAO, 2013[28]; UNISDR, 2009[27]).

Emergency response refers to interventions undertaken immediately after a disaster with the aim of saving lives and livelihoods, as well as to ensure public safety. It focuses on providing relief efforts to help meet the basic subsistence needs of those affected and safeguarding their assets as quickly as possible (UNDRR, 2021[23]). While there is a clear distinction between the preparedness and the emergency response phases, the division between the response and recovery phases may sometimes not be so clear cut as certain response interventions, such as the supply of temporary housing and water, may also extend into the recovery stage (UNISDR, 2009[27]).

Specific agricultural emergency response actions include the provision of, among other resources, food, seeds, fertilizer, fodder, fishing equipment and agricultural tools, in order to safeguard agricultural livelihoods immediately after the impact of a disaster. It may also support the restoration of local food production through the provision of training to community animal health workers to save livestock, and efforts to enhance farmers’ knowledge and skills on water conservation techniques to help establish a basis for agricultural recovery (FAO, 2007[31]).

Recovery involves the rehabilitation and reconstruction of physical, economic, social and environmental assets, systems and activities of a community or society that has been affected by a disaster and enabling the restoration and rebuilding of people’s livelihoods. Rehabilitation encompasses the restoring of basic services and facilities for the full functioning of a community or a society affected by a disaster, while reconstruction focuses specifically on the medium- and long-term rebuilding and sustainable restoration of resilient critical infrastructures, services, housing and facilities (UNISDR, 2009[27]).

The overarching aim of implementing recovery, rehabilitation and reconstruction measures in agriculture, including through the application of ‘building back better’, is to rebuild more resilient agricultural livelihoods and reduce future disaster risk by addressing root causes of vulnerabilities. It includes more long-term oriented post-disaster measures, such as the rehabilitation or reconstruction of hazard-resilient agricultural infrastructure, like drainage and irrigation systems, seed storage facilities and animal shelters as well as efforts to protect the health of surviving animals through vaccination, and the implementation of more drought-resistant and/or flood-tolerant crop varieties, among others (ADB, 2012[32]; FAO, 2013[28]).


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← 1. These figures are adjusted to inflation for USD 2019.

← 2. The report analysed the impacts of 457 disasters in 109 countries, including upper-middle income countries (UMICs) and high-income countries (HICs) for the first time. Between 2008-2018, of the 109 countries that recorded disaster-related agricultural losses, 86% of these were LDCs and LMICs, and 85% of disasters occurred in LDCs and LMICs.

← 3. Due to the slow onset nature, the lack of visible physical damage, blurred temporal boundaries, and wide geographical reach, is difficult to assess the exact impact of droughts. As a result, the evidence base is often missing. Therefore, the adverse impact of this type of disaster, in terms of agricultural damage and losses, is often underestimated.

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