Twenty-two percent of all damages inflicted by natural hazards such as drought, floods storms or tsunamis are registered within the agriculture sector, according to initial results from a March FAO study.
The study analyzed 78 post-disaster needs assessments in 48 developing countries spanning the 2003-2013 period.
Most of the damages are incurred by semi-rural communities without insurance or resources to rebuild, though only about 4.5% of post-disaster humanitarian aid in the 2003-2013 period targeted agriculture.
FAO's 22% figure represents damages reported via post-disaster risk assessments, but the group expects actual figures to be higher. By comparing decreases in yields during and after disasters with yield trends in 67 countries affected by at least one medium- to larger-scale events between 2003 and 2013, FAO arrived at a closer estimate of $70 billion in damages to crops and livestock over that 10 year period.
Asia was the most affected region, with estimated losses adding up to $28 billion, followed by Africa at $26 billion.
"Agriculture and all that it encompasses is not only critical for our food supply, it also remains a main source of livelihoods across the planet. While it is a sector at risk, agriculture also can be the foundation upon which we build societies that are more resilient and better equipped to deal with disasters," said FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva.
"This is why building resilience of livelihoods to threats and crises is one of FAO's top priorities," he added.
To help countries become better equipped, FAO announced the launch of a special facility that will help countries reduce risk exposure and limit disaster impacts.
The facility will work to mainstream disaster risk reduction in agriculture at all levels through diverse activities.
"With this new effort, we are aiming to limit peoples' exposure to risks, avoid or reduce impacts where possible, and enhance preparedness to respond quickly when disasters occur," said Graziano da Silva.
Studies have shown that for every one dollar spent on disaster risk reduction, as much as four dollars are returned in terms of avoided or diminished impacts, he noted.
The work of the new facility will be guided by FAO's Framework Programme on Disaster Risk Reduction for Food and Nutrition Security.