Climate Smart Agriculture Sourcebook

Climate resilience: synergies between Disaster Risk Reduction and Climate-Smart Agriculture

Enabling Frameworks

Disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation

The economic losses of natural disasters have reached levels of USD 250 to 300 billion per year. Out of more than 6 400 recorded major disasters over the last twenty years, 90 percent have been caused by weather-related events (UNISDR, 2015a). Agriculture and the people, who depend on it, are particularly exposed to climate and weather conditions. The impacts of climate-related extremes disrupt food production and water supply, and damage infrastructure. Between 2006 and 2016, 26 percent of the economic impact caused by climate-related disasters was recorded in the agriculture sectors in developing countries. In the case of droughts, up to 83 percent of the damage and losses are on agriculture (FAO, 2017).

Experience shows that the negative and cumulative impact of these disasters erodes livelihoods and coping capacities over time, reduces food production and increases hunger. The clear link between disasters and hunger is an indication of the fragility of food production systems and their vulnerability to natural hazards (FAO, 2011a). The most vulnerable groups – smallholder agricultural producers – are often the most food insecure and exposed to risks. They have smaller plots of land; they may have scarce water resources; and they may have limited access to seeds and planting materials. When a disaster strikes, vulnerable farmers can be deprived of their livelihoods not only in the immediate aftermath of the disaster, but for the entire production cycle, and perhaps beyond. Because farming households need more time to recover, they can be forced to adopt negative coping strategies, such as selling their assets, to meet their needs in the aftermath of a disaster. The cascading series of impacts set off by disasters can diminish or even reverse the gains that have been made in sustainable development and poverty reduction.

Household who depend on agriculture are particularly vulnerable to natural hazards and climate change. There is an urgent need to promote measures that reduce or even eliminate disaster risk  in the agricultural sectors. In situations where all risks cannot be avoided, residual risks need to be anticipated and preparations must be made to limit these risks and cope with the potential impacts on livelihoods and food security.

C5 - 1.1 What is disaster risk reduction in agriculture?

Disaster risk reduction is defined as actions: 

aimed at preventing new and reducing existing disaster risk and managing residual risk, all of which contributes to strengthening resilience and therefore to the achievement of sustainable development. (UNISDR, 2016a, p.16). 

The international community has been constantly increasing its efforts to promoting proactive risk management (Box C5.1). In the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2105-2030, the expected outcome of disaster risk reduction is described as: 

The substantial reduction of disaster risk and losses in lives, livelihoods and health and in the economic, physical, social, cultural and environmental assets of persons, businesses, communities and countries. (UNISDR, 2015b, p12).

Box C5.1 From the Hyogo Framework for Action to Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 

Between 2005 and 2015, vigorous global efforts, which had been guided by the Hyogo Framework for Action (HFA) 2005-2015, helped strengthen the capacity of communities and nations to cope with natural hazards, and reduce their exposure and vulnerability. 

Approved in 2015, the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction (SFDRR) 2015-2030, was established as a direct follow-up mechanism to the HFA. The Sendai Framework emphasizes the importance of disaster risk reduction as a key aspect of sustainable development. Notable innovations of the SFDRR include the shift to a wider multi-hazard approach to risk management that covers transboundary, technological, and biological hazards and disasters. The SFDRR also stresses the need for stronger sectoral engagement in the planning and delivery of disaster risk reduction, and articulates the important role disaster risk governance plays in this regard. It highlights the importance of making greater use of science and technology in the policy-making process. It also promotes the value of disaster risk reduction by focusing on its contribution to 'building back better' during recovery, rehabilitation and reconstruction. 

From a food security, nutrition and agriculture perspective, the innovative elements in the SFDRR include the call for more coherent development policies that integrate food security and and social safety net mechanisms. SFDRR specifically refers to the need for protecting livelihoods and productive assets, such as livestock, tools and seeds. 

The SFDRR, like the HFA before it, emphasizes the need to address climate change as one of the drivers of increased risk of disaster. Actions in this area include linking risk assessment with climate change scenarios, building greater cross-sectoral coherence in policy implementation, and regularly updating of preparedness and contingency policies based on climate change scenarios and their impact on disaster risk. The principles and priorities agreed on in the SFDRR were taken up and reinforced in the World Humanitarian Summit, the Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Agreement.

To achieve these outcomes, disaster risk reduction encompasses a number of distinct activities, including disaster risk prevention, risk mitigation and preparedness. In the aftermath of disasters, disaster risk reduction activities support response and recovery interventions. Disaster risk reduction also involves building a wider understanding of risk and vulnerabilities through assessments, awareness raising campaigns and information management. The systematic integration of disaster risk reduction into wider sustainable development efforts depends on having an effective enabling environment in place that is supported by sound legal and institutional frameworks. Translating concepts and plans into action requires technical expertise and technologies that have been proven effective at reducing hazards; early warning systems that reach vulnerable communities; and practices to enhance preparedness. It also requires that attention be paid to the lessons that have been learned from previous disasters so that affected communities can build back better after future emergencies (Figure C5.1).

In the agricultures sectors, disaster risk reduction can involve using risk analysis and weather alerts to inform farm management. These actions are combined with good agricultural practices and technologies that increase the resilience of the farming system against common stresses and shocks, including those associated with climate change. At an institutional level, mainstreaming disaster risk reduction into agricultural development entails ensuring that disaster risk management measures, the agencies responsible for implementing them and the budgets allocations that make them possible are all integrated into sectoral strategies, plans and investments. Disaster risk reduction in agriculture builds bridges connecting humanitarian support and long-term development goals. For example, risk transfer mechanisms, such as crop insurance or contingency funds, can help keep resource-poor farmers from falling into a 'poverty trap and give them the opportunity to recover more quickly. Module C7 addresses social protection for climate-smart agriculture.

Figure C5.1.  Processes of the disaster risk reduction and management (DRM) framework

Source: graphic updated, FAO 2016.

C5 - 1.2 Disaster risk reduction and climate-smart agriculture

Climate-related hazards, such as extreme temperatures, floods and droughts, heat waves, wild fires and storms, will become more frequent and intense as climate changes. Climate change will also reduce the predictability and alter the geographic distribution of these hazards. Existing vulnerabilities and risks will be compounded by other slow onset impacts of climate change, such as rising sea levels, increased glacier melt, more fragile ecosystems and the degradation of natural resources (IPCC, 2014). The impacts of climate change on food production are already evident in several regions of the world. The impacts on crop yields (addressed in module B1) are expected to be more negative than positive, especially in developing countries (IPCC, 2014). The specific nature of the impacts of climate change on the agriculture sectors will depend upon how much and how rapidly climate changes over time and on how natural ecosystems and societies respond. This uncertainty about the impacts of climate change is in part a function of the nature of climate-related hazards, and in part a function of the varied ways institutions manage the distribution of risks. As noted in module A2, effective decision-making regarding adaptation measures must acknowledge that it is difficult to predict the future. Extensive use of climate change scenarios are necessary to work out long-term approaches for adapting to change over the next 30 to 50 years that are valid under a variety of alternative futures (Groves, 2006). 

Climate change makes the need to build community resilience against extreme events more urgent. Investing in prevention is much more cost-effective than responding to disasters after they have happened. Disaster risk reduction, by helping communities avoid disasters or lessening their impact, saves lives and protects the livelihoods. Investments in disaster risk reduction, which reduces the costs of rehabilitation and reconstruction, also supports sustainable agriculture development. The common focus of disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation is to reduce exposure and vulnerability to the risks posed by climate change, and increase resilience to the potential adverse impacts of climate extremes (IPCC, 2012). In dealing with the uncertainty of the local impacts of climate change over the next decades, existing disaster risk deduction practices, tools, structures, and programmes provide a clear entry point for addressing climate-related extreme events that have already started to occur with greater frequency. Proceeding in this manner can provide the evidence needed to promote, scale up, and trigger investments for disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation in the agriculture sectors, all of which are fundamental for making the transition to climate-smart agriculture. 

The United Nations Secretary-General report on the implementation of the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030 stresses that “reducing disaster risk is an essential part of efforts to address climate change” (UNISDR, 2016b). Recognizing the interconnectedness of disaster risk and climate change, the parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC, 2011) adopted the Cancun Adaptation Framework in 2010, which calls for enhanced climate change-related disaster risk reduction strategies that take into consideration the Hyogo Framework for Action where appropriate (Box C5.1). An important new element of the Paris Agreement is the increased emphasis on adaptation and reducing losses and damage resulting from climate change, which includes the impact of extreme events. Article 7 and 8 of the Paris Agreement highlight the importance of disaster risk reduction tools and methods, such as early warning systems, risk assessment and management and risk insurance.  Other areas of cooperation include strengthening emergency preparedness, responding to slow onset events, and building the resilience of communities (FCCC/CP/2015/L.9/Rev.1). 

It is clear that the experiences that have been gained and the capacities that have been developed in addressing disaster risks related to climate change are directly applicable to climate-smart agriculture. 

While distinct in scope, disaster risk deduction and climate-smart agriculture share common concerns about the impacts of climate-related extreme events on livelihoods and production systems, and the environment. One of their shared objectives is the strengthening of resilience. Approaches and practices for reducing the risks of disaster specifically address and limit the damages and losses caused by extreme events. This contributes to sustaining agricultural production and livelihoods, in communities prone to shocks, and enhances adaptive capacities at the individual and institutional levels. A range of disaster risk reduction practices that enhance adaptation capacities also generate co-benefits for climate change mitigation, especially those practices that address underlying risk factors and the management of natural resources and ecosystems. However, reducing agriculture's contribution to climate change is not the primary objective of disaster risk reduction.