Rising threat to food security: FAO

A farmer removing dried plants from his parched paddy fields in India's Ahmedabad. The weather-related damage is most keenly felt in developing economies that are more dependent on farming.
A farmer removing dried plants from his parched paddy fields in India's Ahmedabad. The weather-related damage is most keenly felt in developing economies that are more dependent on farming.PHOTO: REUTERS

Extreme weather in developing nations 'wipes out livelihoods, hits efforts to abolish hunger'

ROME • Drought, floods and other extremes of weather have become more frequent and severe in the past 30 years and pose a rising threat to food security in developing countries, according to the United Nations food agency.

Natural disasters caused worldwide damage worth US$1.5 trillion (S$2.1 trillion) - more than the annual GDP of Australia - between 2003 and 2013 and hit agriculture hard, the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) said in a report on Thursday. It said they were occurring almost twice as often as in the 1980s, hampering efforts to eradicate hunger and poverty.

Ahead of next week's UN climate conference in Paris, where almost 200 countries will try to agree on measures to limit climate change, the FAO has called for more investment in disaster response and recovery, and in adaptation to climate change, to make the farming sector more resilient.

Scientists say a rise in global temperatures caused by man-made greenhouse gas emissions will make extreme weather events ever more frequent.

"This year alone, small-scale farmers, fisherfolk, pastoralists and foresters - from Myanmar to Guatemala, and from Vanuatu to Malawi - have seen their livelihoods eroded or erased by cyclones, droughts, floods and earthquakes," FAO Director-General Jose Graziano da Silva wrote in the report.

The damage is most keenly felt in developing economies, which are more dependent on farming.

In sub-Saharan Africa, for instance, agriculture and agribusiness together, on average, make up half of economic output.

While drought is the biggest threat to livestock, fisheries suffer most from storms and tsunamis.

The report singled out the damage that drought has done to food processing in Kenya, and the effect of floods on cotton and rice production in Pakistan.

Two-and-a-half billion people worldwide depend on agriculture for their livelihoods, but only 4.2 per cent of total official development funds went to the sector between 2003 and 2012, against a UN target of 10 per cent, the FAO said.

"National strategies for disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation that support resilience must address the types of disasters with the greatest impact on the agriculture sector," Mr da Silva said.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 28, 2015, with the headline 'Rising threat to food security: FAO'. Print Edition | Subscribe