Disaster events caused losses worth 5% of annual global agricultural GDP, disproportionately hitting lower, middle-income countries
Over the last 30 years, an estimated $3.8 trillion worth of crops and livestock production has been lost due to natural and human-made disasters, a new report released Friday by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) shows.
The loss corresponds to 5% of the annual global agricultural gross domestic product (GDP), according to the report, the first-ever global estimate of the impact of disasters on agriculture.
The study also notes that the figure may be higher if systematic data on losses in the fisheries, aquaculture, and forestry subsectors were available.
“Agriculture is one of the most highly exposed and vulnerable sectors in the context of disaster risk, given its profound dependence on natural resources and climate conditions,” said FAO Director-General Qu Dongyu. “Recurrent disasters have the potential to erode gains in food security and undermine the sustainability of agrifood systems.”
The report reveals that, over the last three decades, disasters — defined as serious disruptions to the functioning of a community or society — inflicted the highest relative losses on lower and middle-income countries, up to 15% of their total agricultural GDP.
Disasters also had a significant impact on Small Island Developing States, including countries like Fiji, the Bahamas, and Singapore, causing them to lose nearly 7% of their agricultural GDP, it added.
The study also indicates that losses related to major agricultural products were on a rising trend.
Losses in cereals amounted to an average of 69 million metric tons (about 76 million tons) per year in the last three decades — corresponding to the entire cereal production of France in 2021.
They are followed by fruits, vegetables, and sugar crops, with each approaching average losses of 40 million metric tons per year. For fruits and vegetables, losses corresponded to the entire production in Japan and Vietnam in 2021.
Meats, dairy products, and eggs showed an average estimated loss of 16 million tons per year, Mexico and India’s entire output in that category in 2021.
According to the report, Asia experienced the largest share of total economic losses by far. Africa, Europe, and the Americas also displayed a similar order of magnitude in losses.
FAO research showed that disaster events have increased from 100 per year in the 1970s to around 400 per year worldwide in the past two decades. Not only are disasters increasing in frequency, intensity, and complexity, but their impact is also expected to worsen, as climate-induced events amplify existing social and ecological vulnerabilities.
The report outlines three key priorities for action: Improving data and information on the impacts of disasters on all subsectors of agriculture, developing and mainstreaming multisectoral and multi-hazard disaster risk reduction approaches into policy and programming at all levels, and enhancing investments in resilience that provide benefits in reducing disaster risk in agriculture.