FeaturedNationalVOLUME 18 ISSUE # 49

Urgent calls for global agricultural resilience

A recent study from the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has unveiled shocking findings, revealing that over the past three decades, disasters have inflicted a staggering $3.8 trillion in losses upon the global crop and livestock production.

These devastating disruptions to agriculture, defined as “disasters” in the report, have resulted in annual losses amounting to approximately $123 billion, equivalent to five percent of the worldwide agricultural Gross Domestic Product (GDP). The consequences are not evenly distributed, with lower-income and lower-middle-income countries bearing the heaviest burden, experiencing losses that can reach up to 15 percent of their agricultural GDP. Furthermore, this report underscores the disproportionate impact on women, who face resource and cultural constraints in accessing the tools and information needed to prepare for, respond to, or recover from such disasters.

It is quite startling to observe that “disasters” have resulted in a staggering $3.8 trillion decline in global crop and livestock production over the past three decades. The report, titled “The Impact of Disasters on Agriculture and Food Security,” defines “disasters” as substantial disruptions to the functioning of a community or society. It quantifies these losses to an annual average of approximately $123 billion, which constitutes five percent of the global agricultural Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

Furthermore, the report reveals that lower-income and lower-middle-income countries have suffered the most substantial losses due to extreme events, reaching as high as 10-15 percent of their agricultural GDP. Notably, women bear a greater brunt of these losses due to resource limitations and cultural constraints that impede their access to crucial resources such as information, financial tools, and the necessary assets to prepare for, respond to, or recover from disasters.

This marks the first-ever global assessment of the impact of disasters on agricultural production, with a specific focus on crops and livestock. For the first time, global leaders have become aware that average losses over the past 30 years have surged across all major agricultural products. This includes an annual average loss of 69 million tonnes of cereals, 40 million tonnes of fruits and vegetables, and 16 million tonnes of meat, dairy products, and eggs due to extreme events.

This situation is undeniably a crisis, particularly in the context of a rapidly growing global population and increasing price volatility in commodity markets. Perhaps this research will serve as a wake-up call for prominent leaders to recognize that their diplomatic priorities, such as inciting conflicts in regions and arming aggressors instead of seeking peaceful resolutions, disrupt supply chains and production patterns, significantly contributing to food scarcity and increased prices for a substantial portion of the global population.

Looking ahead, the impact of climate change on agriculture poses a looming threat, leading to more frequent yield fluctuations and decreased production. This underscores the urgent necessity to eliminate unnecessary disturbances, such as geopolitical conflicts, from the equation.

It is also now apparent that unpredictable “Black Swan” events, such as the recent Covid-19 pandemic and the subsequent global shutdown, cannot be entirely ruled out. Hence, reducing external factors that hinder agricultural progress is of utmost importance.

Interestingly, the report also mentions Pakistan, illustrating how disasters lead to the displacement and outward migration of rural communities. “Sindh serves as an illustrative example of how the combination of gradual and sudden hazards triggers displacement, adversely impacting food systems and exacerbating food insecurity.”

However, Pakistan faces the added challenge of a wave of reverse migration due to unprecedented inflation and unemployment. There is limited data available regarding the fate of families who may have nowhere to return to because agricultural sector issues have devastated their native habitats.

The Asian agricultural sector has been the hardest hit by the disasters identified in the report, surpassing the combined losses in Africa, Europe, and the Americas.

As a result, there is an urgent and necessary call for policy responses, with governments collaborating to prevent future losses and initiating similar research within their own agricultural sectors. It’s crucial to recognize that this sector not only supplies food but also generates employment for a significant portion of the populations in lower-income and lower-middle-income countries, which have already endured substantial losses.

Credit must be given to the FAO for conducting and presenting this significant research. Now, the responsibility lies with the global community, particularly the leaders of influential countries, to pay attention and affect meaningful change.

In light of these alarming findings, immediate and targeted policy responses are imperative. Governments worldwide must come together to prevent further losses, and similar research should be commissioned within their own agricultural sectors. It is vital to recognize that agriculture is not only the cornerstone of food production but also a primary source of employment, particularly in the regions most severely affected. The FAO deserves commendation for its rigorous research, and now, the onus rests with the global community, especially the leaders of influential nations, to heed these findings and take meaningful action to secure agricultural resilience on a global scale.