Protecting agriculture from shocks and crises critical to defeating hunger

Protecting agriculture from shocks and crises critical to defeating hunger


Placing sustainable and productive agriculture front and centre in attempts to reduce the impact of natural hazards and food chain-related shocks and crises must be critically addressed, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) warned today on the margins of the Africa–Arab Platform on Disaster Risk Reduction. Progress towards the elimination of hunger in the two regions also requires governments, UN agencies, and other stakeholders to closely examine disaster risk reduction and its relationship with conflict sensitive programming.

The event happening in Tunis this week is a ministerial-level follow-up to the regional implementation of the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction (2015–2030) in Africa and the Arab States regions.  The United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR), the League of Arab States, and the African Union Commission have jointly organized the conference with the Government of Tunisia as host country.

Calling for greater attention to agriculture

While there are many important aspects to the Sendai Framework, FAO is calling for greater attention to protecting and safeguarding agriculture and food security, including fisheries and aquaculture, forestry and natural resources, from the impacts of shocks, conflicts, extreme events and climate change.

“When we talk about disasters and our responses to adapt and mitigate their effects, let’s remember that the first victim in our regions is agriculture, especially the large number of smallholder farmers, pastoralists and fishing or forestry-dependent communities,” said Abdessalam Ould Ahmed, Assistant Director-General and Regional Representative for Near East and North Africa.

In a recent study of 53 developing countries, The Impacts of Disasters and Crises on Agriculture and Food Security, FAO found that agriculture absorbs 23 percent of all damage and loss caused by natural disasters. This rate increases to 80 percent in the case of droughts. From 2005 to 2015, the costs of production losses caused by disasters in several African countries, particularly in Central and Southern Africa, were tremendous – 12 percent of potential crop and livestock production in years in which disasters occurred. 

Addressing a disaster in hunger

In its recently published flagship report, The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World, FAO estimated that in 2017, the number of undernourished people rose to 821 million – around one out of every nine people in the world. This increase is mostly due to conflict, climate-related shocks and unsustainable use of natural resources.

Man-made and natural disasters such as conflict, climate change, transboundary animal and plant pests and diseases, water scarcity and drought are the main challenges threatening food and nutrition security in Africa and the Arab States regions. In 2017, 74 million people in 18 countries or territories affected by conflict were food insecure. Fifteen of these countries were in Africa and the Arab States, totalling 64 million food insecure people. Currently, the five States with the highest levels of acute food insecurity are all located in Africa and Arab States.

Bukar Tijani, Assistant Director-General and Regional Representative for Africa, added: “Policies must take into consideration the buffer role of agriculture in times of crisis. It absorbs environmental and economic shocks. Agriculture plays a critical role in ensuring that affected people maintain access to food and livelihoods during and after disasters, and in building resilience over time.”

Mitigating the impact on food security and nutrition

There is a need for a holistic approach and urgent actions at local, national and regional levels to reduce the effects of disasters on food security and nutrition. Accelerating risk and vulnerability assessments, strengthening early warning to inform early action, managing natural resources sustainably, ensuring conflict sensitivity, investing in integrated pests management and other approaches to address transboundary animal and plant pests and diseases, and fostering innovation are vital to advancing the agenda for Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) in the two regions. Moreover, building partnerships and strengthening institutional capacities and regional cooperation are key.

Share this page