In the globalized context of modern societies, the impacts of extreme events are multidimensional, interconnected and cascading. Located at the intersection of human, social and environmental systems, agriculture is highly susceptible to the effects of major disruptions and shocks. To reduce the negative impact of these shocks and improve the resilience of this sector by developing and implementing risk reduction and resilience strategies, it is necessary to first identify and measure the way in which agricultural activities are impacted by disasters.

Part 2 advances the narrative on how disasters impact agriculture. The first and second section of Part 2 outline the potential impact trajectories of extreme events on agriculture and highlight the current status of data production and collection for recording these impacts. These effects can be caused by a range of hazards and can manifest as negative physical, economic and social outcomes. These sections also outline two aspects of social impacts produced by disasters in agriculture, namely their effect on female farmers and on displacement and migration.

The third section of Part 2 describes the results of a global assessment of historical agricultural losses, revealing the variable loss burden across years, regions and event types experienced in the two subsectors of crops and livestock over the past three decades. Losses are presented both as lost units of agricultural products (tonnes), as well as their total economic value. Production losses are then converted into nutrients and energy to highlight the lost potential for healthy diets. Boxes offer a field perspective on livestock losses after the 2016/17 drought in Somalia and the impacts of the fall armyworm infestation for crops.

The fourth section of Part 2 zooms in on the effects of disasters experienced in the other two agricultural subsectors of fisheries and aquaculture and forestry. Detailed accounts of sector-specific hazards or impacts are presented through two assessments covering the effects of wildfires and insect infestations in forestry, and the diverse impacts in fisheries and aquaculture resulting from different disasters in three country locations. The section underscores the complexity of calculating disaster losses in fisheries and aquaculture and forestry, and provides insights into better systems for data collection and impact assessment.

2.1 Multifaceted impacts of disasters in agriculture

Agricultural activities and livelihoods – and the agrifood production systems they support – are heavily dependent on environmental conditions, natural resources and ecosystems. Climate conditions and weather-related events directly affect the sustainability of crops, livestock, fisheries and forestry.7 Agriculture around the world is increasingly at risk of being disrupted due to multiple hazards and threats, such as flooding, water scarcity, drought, declining agricultural yields and fisheries resources, loss of biological diversities and environmental degradation. Geophysical hazards such as earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and mass movements damage infrastructure and cause widespread disruption to the services and networks (such as transport and market access) on which agriculture is reliant.

Variations in water supply and extreme temperatures are two of the biggest factors that directly and indirectly impact agricultural production. Floods and heavy precipitation can have both positive and negative impacts on agricultural systems and productivity. For example, heavy rainfall and flooding of fields can delay spring planting, increase soil compaction, and cause crop losses due to oxygen deprivation and root diseases. Conversely, a flood can also have a positive effect on the following season’s crops. In addition, intense rainfall associated with monsoons and cyclones can be of great benefit to ecosystems, helping to restore water levels in reservoirs, support seasonal agriculture and alleviate summer drought in arid areas. Nonetheless, rainfall variability is one of the leading causes of most crop losses. In Pakistan, exceptional monsoon rainfalls and subsequent flooding in 2022 caused nearly USD 4 billion in damages to the agricultural sector.8

The United States of America’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) estimates that over USD 21.4 billion in crop and rangeland losses were caused by major weather and climate events in the United States of America in 2022 alone.9 Drought and wildfires accounted for over USD 20.4 billion in total crop losses, with the remaining USD 1.08 billion linked to hurricanes, hail, flooding and other severe weather events. Drought can lead to water shortages and crop failures, and it can ultimately trigger famine in vulnerable contexts. In Honduras, the combined effects of drought and the 2020 storms halved agricultural production and heightened food insecurity, forcing many to flee internally and across borders.10,11,12

Agricultural drought emerges from a combination of rainfall deficits (meteorological drought), soil water deficits and reduced ground water or water storage levels needed for irrigation (hydrological drought). During the growing season especially, drought can result in a lack of precipitation that affects crop production or ecosystem function. Soil moisture deficits and soil degradation impact other productive systems in addition to agriculture, particularly on other natural or managed ecosystems, including forests and rangelands. For instance, there is a strong correlation between droughts, high temperatures and the incidence of bark beetle infestations in spruce pine forests in northern Europe.13

Extreme temperature events also have negative consequences for agricultural production. In the livestock subsector, heat stress can affect the mortality, liveweight gain, milk yield and fertility of an animal.14 Animal welfare may also be negatively affected by temperatures higher than an animal’s thermoneutral zone, thereby increasing susceptibility to some diseases. Some breeds and species of cattle can experience thermal stress at temperatures higher than 20 °C, which has knock-on effects on the economic performance of dairy and beef production systems.15 Many crops are particularly sensitive to extreme heat, which can reduce yields of cereal crops such as corn and increase stress on livestock. Rice yields can be reduced by up to 90 percent when night temperatures increase from 27 °C to 32 °C,16 and temperatures above 30 °C are deemed to be harmful to maize production.17 High temperatures during grain development of wheat can alter the protein content of the grain, and high temperatures during grain filling have been identified as one of the most important factors affecting both yield and flour quality of wheat.18

Extreme events after a crop is grown can also impact production. For example, wildfires destroyed more than 10 million ha in south-eastern Australia during the 2019/20 fire season, around one-quarter of which was agricultural land.19 Moreover, frequent hot days are also likely to increase heat stress for farm workers, animals and plants. In some regions of western Europe, despite the wide application of farm technologies in large-scale agricultural production and food processing, severe drought in 2022 caused crop yields to fall by up to 45 percent, while wheat and rice yields dropped 30 percent.20

There is evidence to show that current warming trends around the globe are already having an impact on agriculture. Warming ocean temperatures are causing an increase in the incidence of marine heatwaves, threatening marine ecosystems and negatively impacting fisheries and aquaculture. Crop yields in some areas have already begun to decline due to warmer conditions compared to expected yields without warming. A recent study found that the severity of heatwave and drought impacts on crop production roughly tripled from 2.2 percent between 1964 and 1990, to 7.3 percent between 1991 and 2015.21 Overall, historical droughts and heatwaves reduced European cereal yields on average by 9 percent and 7.3 percent respectively, and non-cereal yields declined by 3.8 percent and 3.1 percent during the same period. Cold waves led to cereal and non-cereal yield declines by 1.3 percent and 2.6 percent, respectively.

These increasing trends are a cause for concern. Agriculture plays a vital role in securing the availability of food for healthy diets, and is an important driver in creating employment, food security and reducing poverty. Over half of Asia’s 4.75 billion population resides in rural areas and relies on agricultural activities.27 Similarly, the livelihoods of almost 50 percent of the population in Africa are linked to agriculture, which accounts for 35 percent of the region’s GDP.28 The potential vulnerability of this sector to disasters is alarming, especially in the context of the rising global population and increasing demand for food.

In addition to direct impacts on agricultural production and stocks, disasters affect livelihoods, food security and nutrition. They cause rural unemployment, a decline in income for farmers and agricultural workers, and reduce the availability of food in local markets. Secondary effects on food supply and nutrition, such as spiking food prices, less money to buy food through loss of livelihoods or destruction of assets, interrupted access to food through displacement or disrupted markets and infrastructure, disruption of social assistance programmes, and a lack of clean water and sanitation, can also reduce food access for communities directly affected by disasters. Such stresses can reduce household purchasing power, increase debt, drive up poverty and exacerbate gender inequalities. In extreme cases, they can result in the displacement and outward migration of rural populations (see BOX 2). Ultimately, the quantity and quality of food consumption is reduced, and food insecurity and malnutrition increases, especially among the most vulnerable households. In a global context, it is estimated that between 691 and 783 million people in the world faced chronic hunger in 2022 – about 735 million, considering the mid-range.29

BOX 1 Recent events AFFECTING agriculture

  • Tropical Cyclone Idai made landfall in Malawi, Mozambique and Zimbabwe in 2019. Labelled as the deadliest cyclone in southern Africa, the storm displaced 95 388 people, killed 598 people, and destroyed 715 000 ha of crops in Mozambique, worsening the food security situation in the country.22
  • Over 800 000 ha were destroyed by wildfires in the European Union in the summer of 2022. The fires are estimated to have caused over EUR 2 billion in damages, affecting Portugal, Romania and Spain the worst.23
  • The outbreak of African swine fever in China, which started in 2018, seriously affected the country’s swine industry. The epidemic led to an estimated USD 111.2 billion in losses, amounting to 0.78 percent of China’s GDP.24
  • In 2022, the United States of America experienced 18 weather and climate disasters, each causing damages exceeding USD 1 billion. According to NOAA, 2022 surpassed 2021 as the third costliest year for disaster events in history, causing 470 deaths and an estimated USD 165 billion in total economic losses, of which nearly USD 22 billion were in crop losses alone.9
  • Following heavier than average monsoon rains, Pakistan experienced one of the world’s deadliest floods in 2022. Affecting over 33 million people, the floods resulted in USD 30 billion in economic losses. Agriculture, one of the hardest-hit economic sectors, suffered substantial losses in cotton, date, sugarcane and rice crops, resulting in the deaths of approximately 1.2 million livestock animals. As a result, an estimated additional 7.6 million people are facing food insecurity in the country.25
  • Devastating earthquakes struck southern Türkiye in February 2023. The affected region, known as Türkiye’s fertile crescent, accounts for nearly 15 percent of agricultural GDP and contributes to almost 20 percent of the country’s agrifood exports. The earthquake severely impacted 11 key agricultural provinces, affecting 15.73 million people and more than 20 percent of the country’s food production. Initial assessments by FAO indicate significant impacts on agriculture, with preliminary estimates of USD 1.3 billion in damage and USD 5.1 billion in losses to the sector.26
Source: Authors’ own elaboration.

BOX 2 Disaster displacement and its effects on agriculture and food security

Assessing the impacts of disaster-induced displacement in the agricultural sector remains challenging. Nevertheless, evidence from around the world confirms that displacement stands out as one of the most conspicuous consequences of disasters, carrying both short and long-term implications for food security and the sustainability of food systems.

Sudden-onset hazards trigger mass displacement every year, and slow-onset hazards also render entire areas unsuitable for agriculture and force communities to move. When both types of disaster combine, their impacts can be devastating, and displacement may become prolonged. The latest data from the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre shows that disasters triggered 376 million internal displacements between 2008 and 2022 and left 8.7 million people displaced as of the end of 2022.

As rural communities are displaced, not only do they abandon their land and livelihoods, but their departure means that food production is reduced too, which has a cascading effect on the sustainability of food systems. From Colombia to Ethiopia and Somalia, floods and droughts have forced many rural communities to move, sometimes indefinitely, to urban areas. In some instances, the impacts of disasters have compounded with those brought on by conflict and violence, which means that displaced communities that rely on agricultural production and trade to sustain their livelihoods are unable to produce and sell food, while movement restrictions and other impacts of the conflict further heighten their food insecurity.

Pakistan’s southern province of Sindh serves as an illustrative example of how the interplay between slow and sudden onset hazards has led to displacement, severely affecting food systems and exacerbating food insecurity. The province, which is key to the country’s agricultural production, suffered severe drought in 2021 and early 2022. The situation prompted the government to issue alerts as water scarcity became a major threat to the production of crops such as cotton and wheat, undermining the livelihoods of millions of farmers.30,31 The monsoon floods of August 2022 left 18 percent of the province under water, triggering mass displacement and severely damaging crops.32 National losses to the agricultural sector amounted to USD 9.2 billion, 72 percent of which were recorded in Sindh.33

Numerous warnings about the floods potentially triggering a food crisis proved to be an accurate prediction.34,35 Almost 6 million people faced Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) phase 3+ levels of food insecurity across Pakistan at the height of the monsoon in July and August. More than half of them were in Sindh, which together with Balochistan, were the provinces where most flood displacement was recorded.36 The 2022 monsoon season brought record-breaking rainfall over Pakistan that triggered 8.2 million movements, making it the world’s largest disaster displacement event in the last ten years.37

Similarly, displacement and agricultural losses have been significant in Honduras after back-to-back disasters. Hurricanes Eta and Iota triggered 918 000 internal displacements in two weeks in November 2020. Many farmers were affected, with widespread implications for the agricultural sector across 16 departments. Crops such as coffee and bananas, which account for a significant proportion of the country’s exports and GDP, were damaged.38

Honduras sits in Central America’s dry corridor and drought has also played a role in recent years in reducing harvests and undermining farmers’ resilience. The combined effects of drought and the 2020 storms halved agricultural production and heightened food insecurity, forcing many to flee internally and across borders.10,39,40

These examples show that the impacts of disaster displacement on agriculture should not be overlooked. On the contrary, more data are needed to fully assess the scope and scale of this phenomenon, also considering how the food and agriculture sector can support durable solutions to displacement.37

Source: Authors’ own elaboration.

These impacts are most acutely experienced at the local and household levels within disaster-affected areas, with women often bearing the brunt of the adverse effects. Although a greater number of men are employed in agriculture than women at a global scale, agriculture is the most important economic sector for female employment in low- to middle-income countries, and it generally employs a larger share of women than men.41 Economically, disasters have varying impacts on men and women within the agricultural sector, and this discrepancy is particularly pronounced in developing countries, where female farmers often face greater vulnerability to disasters compared to their male counterparts.42 Resource and structural constraints are the main drivers of gender disparities in disaster impacts. Women have difficulty accessing the information and resources needed to adequately prepare for, respond to and recover from a disaster – including access to early warning systems and safe shelters, as well as access to social and financial protection schemes and alternative employment (see BOX 3).

BOX 3 Unveiling gender vulnerability: Impact of disasters on female employment in agriculture in Pakistan

Existing gender inequalities increase disaster risk for women in all sectors of society, and weaken the resilience of communities as a whole. It is possible to observe a differential economic impact of disasters on men and women in the agriculture sector in Pakistan.

Agriculture forms the biggest sector of Pakistan’s economy. It represents 24 percent of GDP44 and employs 37 percent of the total workforce (FIGURE 3).45 Women represent more than 70 percent of workers in agriculture in the country. Their contribution has remained stable since the 1990s due to social, economic and cultural factors that continue to impede female employment in non-agricultural sectors. In contrast, men have transitioned to the manufacturing and service sectors to a greater degree, intensifying pre-existing gender disparities within the economy.


Source: ILO. 2023. ILO modelled estimates database. In: ILOSTAT. [Cited May 2023].
Source: ILO. 2023. ILO modelled estimates database. In: ILOSTAT. [Cited May 2023].

The data analysis for Pakistan suggests that floods had an impact on agricultural employment and, overall, workers experienced a reduction in paid employment in the sector after disaster events. Different coping strategies were adopted by workers to adapt to this change, with gender playing a role in the alternative employment options available (FIGURE 3). While men transitioned to operating their own enterprises or farms, women who lost their employment were more likely to work within the household without pay. This trend is evident in the aftermath of the floods in 2007, 2011, 2018 and 2019.

After a major flood event, the number of male wage workers employed in agriculture is seen to decrease as men shift to self-employed forms of agricultural activities. On the other hand, the number of females in paid work decreases and the number of women contributing to unpaid family-based agricultural activities increases. This suggests that flood damage affects the employment conditions and wage security of women more negatively than men in the long run.46 Overall, the findings suggest that floods have a gendered impact on agricultural employment in Pakistan, where women are disproportionately affected after such disasters in terms of reduced economic opportunities and increased dependence on family-based work arrangements.

Source: Authors’ own elaboration.

In addition to social and economic impacts, disasters cause negative consequences throughout agrifood value chains, including disruptions to the flow of agricultural inputs such as seeds and fertilizer, and downstream activities such as food processing and distribution. They disrupt food supplies, market access and trade, and can also lead to a decline in exports and revenues. This negatively impacts the balance of payments and affects long-term growth in the agricultural sector, as well as national GDP.43

In the context of a changing climate, the effects of extreme events on agriculture will in turn affect the sustainability of agriculture in both high- and low-income countries. In southern Australia, for example, climate change may lead to changes in land use, as crop and livestock production in arid marginal areas could become non-viable if rainfall decreases, even if yield increases due to increased CO2 might partially offset this effect. But the impacts of increasingly frequent disasters will be even more pronounced in those low-income countries that host the highest number of vulnerable populations with limited coping capacities and limited access to resources for reducing risk and adapting to changes in climate and environmental conditions.

Small island developing countries, particularly atoll countries, will be increasingly vulnerable to climate change, with erosion, flooding, and saline intrusion already resulting in reduced agricultural productivity.47 Some sub-Saharan African countries, already experiencing high levels of fragility and food insecurity, are also projected to undergo increased vulnerability to climate extremes.48 Namibia, for instance, is projected to experience annual losses of 1 to 6 percent of GDP due to climate impacts on natural resources, resulting in significant economic losses in livestock, small-scale farming and fisheries. Cameroon, which is highly dependent on rain-fed agriculture, is projected to experience significant economic losses due to a 14 percent decrease in rainfall.49

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