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Absorbing the shock of losses and damage due to climatic phenomena: FAO point of view

Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations

The effects of the climate crisis continue to exceed the limits of adaptation. But countries are urgently seeking strategies to deal with the losses and damage affecting the agricultural sector. This opinion article by Qu Dongyu, the director-general of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), examines different solutions to limit this devastation. This concerns in particular the increase in the amounts devoted to financing climate action and the implementation of anticipated actions.

In the 1960s in China, on the small rice farm where he grew up, Qu Dongyu says his family was well aware that the slightest adverse weather event could wipe out the equivalent of a year’s work. Farmers have an intuitive understanding of climate and weather conditions. But the evolution of these and the severity of the weather phenomena which have occurred in recent years have shaken rural communities. We could never have imagined how much the seasons would change or at what pace. The resulting losses and damage undermine years of hard-won rural development.

The FAO DG specifies that climate change has transformed into a food and agricultural crisis. Increasingly, smallholders are at the mercy of extreme weather events and the resulting disasters. Because it is entirely dependent on weather conditions and natural resources to ensure the production of healthy food, the food and beverage sector is on the front lines of the climate crisis.

Climate change harms the capacity to produce food because it makes food less available, less accessible and less affordable. Just as it degrades water quality, soil and biodiversity, it leads to an increase in the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events. It also changes the cycles of pest infestation and disease outbreak. These effects worsen food insecurity, as they reduce agricultural yields and the productivity of livestock. They limit the amount of food that fishing and aquaculture could produce.

Huge losses were recorded

Qu Dongyu estimates that USD 3.8 trillion is the value of crop and livestock production lost to climate and other disasters over the past three decades. This corresponds to average annual losses of 123 billion, or 5 percent of annual global agricultural gross domestic product (GDP). These disasters are also occurring more and more often: while there were around a hundred per year in the 1970s, the annual average today is 400. Given that agriculture, which includes plant and animal production, forests, fisheries and aquaculture, is one of the main economic activities in developing countries, this situation has significant repercussions.

Farmers have been resilient and have adapted to their environment for centuries. They are the best investment we could make to strengthen resilience and adaptation to climate change. However, what they are experiencing today goes beyond their ability to adapt. Currently, agricultural communities and countries are dependent on support to deal with loss and damage, whether economic or not, caused by extreme and slow-onset events.

This is the test that awaited the participants in the 28e session of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change: ensuring the mobilization of financing to help farmers facing these difficulties and, more importantly, getting the funds to them. According to IFAD’s latest report on loss and damage in agri-food systems, this issue is cited in more than a third of country commitments or nationally determined contributions on climate. According to findings, in these countries, agriculture alone is the most affected sector.

FAO gets involved

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations is committed to helping countries assess the extent and scale of loss and damage caused by the impacts of the climate crisis on the agri-food sector, to mobilize adapted and reliable financial resources to support the implementation of measures against these two phenomena in the sector. It will also help assess climate risks, reduce losses and damage in agriculture, and develop new technologies and practices that can reduce the exposure and vulnerability of producers and consumers to climate risks. These may include drought-tolerant crops, water-saving irrigation systems, early warning mechanisms, crop insurance and even social protection schemes.

The climate and food crisis are inseparable. Investing in solutions that enable agri-food systems to cope with the effects of climate change will be extremely beneficial for people and the planet. However, even the most resilient farmers are not able to adapt to all the effects of the climate crisis. Small farms and developing countries dependent on agriculture must be at the forefront of our collective action to reduce losses and resulting damage.

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