The Heat Is Online

UN Forecasts Food Shortages from Climate Impacts

UN Agency Tells Farmers, Prepare For The Worst

ROME, Italy, March 27, 2001 (ENS) - The billions of dollars of crops lost in floods and storms over the last decade could have been minimized if countries had developed disaster management strategies that included early warning storm forecasting systems, says a United Nations agency.

The comments marked the opening of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization's (FAO) Committee on Agriculture in Rome this week. The committee is expected to recommend action on key development issues, including biosecurity, sustainable agriculture and climate change.

The effects of climate change - namely flooding, desertification and drought - are increasingly being felt by the agricultural sector. In a report to the committee, the FAO says agriculture has an important role to play is lessening those effects.

Agriculture's potential for sequestering carbon, the foremost greenhouse gas, and for reducing greenhouse gas emissions by substituting fossil fuels with biofuels, are explored in the report, titled, "Climate Variability and Change: A Challenge for Sustainable Agricultural Production."

Biomass is the energy contained in plants and organic matter and is one of humanity's earliest sources of energy. It is the main source of energy in many developing countries and provides about 15 percent of the world's energy.

Biomass can be used to generate electricity, heat homes, fuel vehicles and provide process heat for industrial facilities. The FAO says its energy contribution could be increased significantly through modern conversion technology.

This increase could have a significant impact for mitigating carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, sequestering carbon and increasing employment for farmers in remote rural areas.

The report stresses the importance of countries developing strategies to cope with climate related disasters, and incorporating those strategies into long term development programs.

"The most immediate and visible impact of storms on agriculture is the damage to standing crops, livestocks, household property, production assets and physical infrastructure," says the report.

"This may result in food supply shortages at household, community, and sometimes national levels," it continues.

The report cites figures from the most recent World Disaster Report of the International Federation of the Red Cross. The agency said wind storms and flood related disasters between 1990 and 1999 together accounted for 60 per cent of the total economic loss caused by natural disasters.

"Apart from the immediate devastation - death, injury, hunger and starvation - disasters disproportionately affect the poor, making them even poorer by destroying the few assets that they possess," the report says.

The report recommends developing long term programs to reduce storm related agricultural losses. It suggests doing this by evaluating land use, conducting vulnerability and risk assessments, and taking inventory of traditional community land management practices.

It adds that crop, livestock, fisheries and forestry practices and farming systems suitable for vulnerable areas should be identified. These programs should include a preparedness plan for relief and rehabilitation, says the report.