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EDITORIAL: It is shocking to note that “disasters” have wiped out about $3.8 trillion in global crop and livestock output over the last 30 years, according to a study published by the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO).

The report, titled ‘The Impact of Disasters on Agriculture and Food Security’, defines disasters as “serious disruptions to the functioning of a community or society” and quantifies these losses to approximately $123 billion every year, which amounts to five percent of global agricultural GDP.

That’s not all. It goes on to say that lower-income and lower-middle-income countries have sustained the highest losses due to extreme events, running up to 10-15 percent of their agricultural GDP. And, as you’d expect, women are harder hit than men.

“That’s because of resource constraints and cultural constraints that women face in accessing things like information, financial instruments, the resources that they need to prepare for and respond to or recover from disaster events,” the report’s author said.

This is the first-ever global estimation of the impact of disasters on agricultural production focused on crops and livestock. So this is also the first time that global leaders have found out that average losses over 30 years have increased across all major agri products, “with an average of 69 million tonnes of cereals, 40 million tonnes of fruits and vegetables and 16 million tonnes of meat, dairy products and eggs lost annually due to extreme events”.

This is indeed a crisis situation, especially with a rapidly rising global population and increasing price shocks due to commodity market volatility.

Perhaps such research will make prominent leaders realise that some of their diplomatic priorities — like triggering wars in conflict zones and arming aggressors instead of containing them — also rattle supply chains and production patterns and play a definitive role in making food scarcer and more expensive for a big majority of people across the world.

Going forward, the impact of climate change on agriculture seems to threaten “more frequent yield anomalies and a decrease in production”, so there is going to be an urgent need to remove needless irritants — like hot and cold wars — from the picture.

There’s also the realisation now that Black Swan events, like the recent Covid pandemic and resulting global shutdown, can never really be completely ruled out. So the need to cut down on exogenous factors that drag agriculture down cannot be stressed enough.

Appropriately enough, Pakistan also finds mention in the report when it explains how disasters cause displacement and outward migration of rural populations. “Sindh is an illustrative example of how the combination of slow and sudden onset of hazards triggered displacement, negatively impacting food systems and increasing food insecurity”.

Yet Pakistan’s problems are compounded by a wave of reverse migration caused by unprecedented inflation and unemployment, and there’s no data available about the fate of families that might have nowhere to return to because agri sector problems devastated their native habitat.

Asian agriculture has been hit the hardest by the disasters identified in the report, almost equal to all losses in Africa, Europe and the Americas put together.

There must, therefore, be an immediate and appropriate policy response and governments should not only join heads and hands to prevent future losses but also commission similar research in their own respective agri sectors.

After all, this sector provides food and also employment for most people in lower-income and lower-middle-income countries that have suffered the most already.

FAO must be credited for undertaking and presenting this important research. Now it’s up to the global community, especially leaders of big and influential countries, to take heed and make a difference.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2023


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KU Oct 22, 2023 08:19am
The world stats are food for thought but our country's plight will very soon disrupt every normal that we take for guaranteed. Apart from climate and weather changes, we are faced with high cost of production, leaving little for the farmers and his family. The nefarious are not interested nor aware of this dangerous zone and food insecurity.
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Fatima Oct 22, 2023 07:44pm
Do you think nation can prioriotise agriculture ahead of military and politics? only in our dreams.
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