The agricultural sector is one of the most vulnerable sectors in the face of climate change, given its heavy dependence on water, weather, and climate. According to the 2021 FAO report on the impact of disasters and crises on agriculture and food security, the agricultural sector in low- and middle-income countries accounted for 63% of the damages and losses from disasters triggered by natural hazards documented between 2008 and 2018.
With record heat temperatures around the world and changes in rainfall patterns, it is evident that the agricultural sector needs policy frameworks that properly integrate the agricultural sector into the Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR), Climate Change Adaptation (CCA) and development plans. While some nations (such as the Philippines, Myanmar, Jamaica, Serbia, and Guyana) are taking steps toward creating DRR plans specifically for the agricultural sector and integrating them into the national DRR plans, there is still an urgent need for further alignment at the global scale as well.
The Global Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction (GPDRR 2022), held in May, provided a crucial forum for discussing how climate change impacts different sectors. It also offered an opportunity to explore collaboration to break down silos and strengthen plans for disaster risk management and climate adaptation.
Climate-related disasters are increasingly becoming a threat to communities. The GPDRR 2022 brought awareness to three critical areas that should be considered for a resilient agriculture sector and food security (the numbers labeled do not indicate the priority):
1. Need for multi-sectoral and multi-hazard DRR plans to reduce vulnerabilities
When addressing how the effects of disasters cascade across sectors, Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) plans with multi-hazard and multi-sectoral perspectives can assist diverse actors in understanding the climate and non-climate related risks (such as urbanisation) to which an area is vulnerable.
Climate and non-climate related hazards will create competition for land use dedicated to food production and increase the likelihood of cascading risks. Examples of cascading risks are unexpected floods due to newly paved surfaces that previously worked as infiltration areas, wildfires due to land clearing fires, or increased in food prices due to higher demand but less capacity and space to grow local food.
Among the non-climatic hazards that most affect the agricultural sector is urbanisation. The rapid urban expansion is creating high pressure on land available for growing food by changing the natural environment and fertile soils into human-made structures and artificial ecosystems. Urbanisation that does not consider a multi-hazard approach and food security can create cascading risks and increase the severity of its impacts.
2. Natural resources and land used to produce food should be considered critical infrastructure
Considering natural resources would boost their importance in national DRR and CCA plans and provide opportunities to re-evaluate the allocation of funds and strategies for resilience and adaptation to climate change.
Critical infrastructure is defined as all assets (usually man-made infrastructure) which are essential to maintain basic and vital societal needs. After a disaster, many assets are damaged, and as a consequence, their services stop or fail. Quick action is needed to bring back those services and set out priorities and options for how DRR should be implemented. Given that natural resources such as clean water and food are considered vital human needs, the natural systems that provide them should be considered critical infrastructure. This could enhance their protection, support further implementation of green infrastructure, blue infrastructure and nature-based solutions, improve resilience to climate change impacts and potentially guarantee food security in communities.
3. Including food preservation strategies in DRR plans is essential
Including food security in DRR plans will open a window also to consider measures and actions toward food preservation. This may also highlight how important food systems are for reducing social vulnerability and for understanding the cascading effects of food system disruptions into other sectors that can exacerbate the impacts of disasters.
Increased temperatures will require the agricultural industry to quickly adapt and become resilient to ongoing changes in climatic patterns. In locations where heat temperatures exceed historical records, higher temperatures also indicate the need for more cold storage to preserve food and prevent significant losses of perishables. However, increasing cold storage can raise power consumption and a strong reliance on electricity.
Food systems could break down in the event of a disaster, triggering cascading events of negative outcomes, including higher food prices, spoiled food, starvation, and even violence.
The 2022 Pakistan Floods Response Plan (FRP) uses the most recent floods in Pakistan as an example. The FRP is holistic, with a multi-sectoral approach covering the thematic clusters of food security and agriculture, health, nutrition, education, protection, shelter and non-food items, water, sanitation and hygiene. Even though food security was already high in some regions, around 33 million people are affected by the devastating impact of unprecedented floods on different infrastructure, including the 900 000 hectares of crops that have been significantly destroyed.
Co-creating climate resilience for the agricultural sector
To sum up, one final question needs to be answered. How can governments respond to making the agricultural sector resilient to multiple hazards and guaranteeing food security to their communities simultaneously?
During the GPDRR 2022, the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNDRR) reaffirmed its commitment to support and promote the integration and alignment of policies to guarantee that no one and no sector is left behind in the DRR, CCA and development plans. Furthermore, they announced the partnership and commitment of the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) toward building an Early Warning System of global coverage by 2027.
Despite the commitment, disaster risk surpasses risk reduction. Witnessing increasingly extreme weather events, we are still far from reducing the risks and reaching the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030 goals and consequently, the Paris Agreement on climate change and the Sustainable Development Goals. In a globalised world, the interconnectedness of hazards is more evident than ever, hence the need to scale up joint action to build resilience to growing climate and disaster risks.