Extreme weather leads to crop damage
Record temperatures and prolonged droughts in 2022 led to sharply reduced crop yields in many regions, with the impact likely to extend through 2023. ‘Heatflation’ has already become part of the agricultural vernacular, describing how higher temperatures lead to smaller harvests and higher prices. But it is not only extreme heat that hurts crop yields – increased and more severe flooding, more frequent landslides and unexpected frost are also damaging.
Agriculture is especially vulnerable to increased frequency and intensity of extreme weather-related and climate-induced events.
Weather examples from 2022: The devastating floods in Pakistan from July to October inundated a third of the country and washed away nearly half its crops, at an estimated cost of $2.3bn.3 Vegetable prices initially spiked by 500%. The current drought in the Horn of Africa (Ethiopia, Somalia, Djibouti and Eritrea) has led millions of people to move from the stricken areas in search of food. In Egypt, extreme heat during the summer and extreme cold in the winter have hurt the Nile delta’s agricultural output, which is the main source of such production for the North African nation. In Europe, record-breaking heatwaves in the UK, France, Italy, Spain and Germany did severe damage to summer crops such as maize, sunflower and soybeans.
Even China, the largest food producer but also the largest food importer to feed its 1.4bn people, experienced extreme heat and a month-long drought during the rainy season in the south, threatening domestic autumn crops.
Agriculture in the eye of the storm: The agricultural sector often faces long-lasting consequences of disasters such as deterioration in animal health, contamination of water facilities, loss of harvests, outbreaks of disease and destruction of irrigation systems and other infrastructure. According to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), 63% of the damage and loss from disasters occurring between 2008-2018 was felt by the agriculture sector, relative to industry, commerce and tourism.
Countries where agriculture represents a significant share of the overall GDP are likely to be the most vulnerable through lower-than-expected production. Between 2008 and 2018, disaster-related losses recorded in crop and livestock production amounted to $280bn. In the poorest countries, which accounted for almost half total losses, lost production translated to 7 trillion kilocalories per year – the annual intake of 7 million adults.