Crop Damage from Disaster
Natural disasters have a profound effect on crop yield, soil, and profit. Therefore, farmers need to take environmental factors into account when choosing which crops to plant, and national governments must ensure that farmers have the resources to care of food during disasters (Butzen). Natural disasters can eradicate farmland and can cause significant lasting damage. Due to climate change, a dramatic increase is expected in the intensity and frequency of natural disasters (Knutson, 2007). The disasters that have the greatest impact on crops are flooding, droughts, and tropical storms.
Flooding causes damage and kills crops due to waterlogging (Butzen). The oxygen content of the soil decreases dramatically after flooding and it makes it more difficult for respiration to occur, causing more vegetation to die or be more exposed to diseases. Soil is also disrupted in that many nutrients and minerals are washed away or are spread further from crops (Butzen).
While flooding plants causes a plethora of issues, but too little water causes several of its own problems. Drought causes plants to die of dehydration and can leave foliage more prone to fires, which causes damage to soil and to the rest of the crop (CNBC, 2015). This unused soil can then be blown around by heavy winds and eroded which can cause situations akin to the dust bowl, which caused great damage to US agriculture in the 1930s by blocking sunlight and suffocating cattle, ultimately driving farmers off of fertile land. Droughts can also force farmers to avoid using some land and reserve more resources.
Tropical storms are perhaps the least directly damaging to a year’s harvest when compared to droughts and floods, but unlike those two, tropical storms can destroy a large number of other tools that are necessary for the agricultural process like silos for storage or tractors for plowing soil (NCDC, 2012). Tropical storms also don’t always come alone. When hurricanes strike areas, flooding also impacts the crop yield and the hurricane itself damages tools needed. As damaging each disaster is, a cycle of relief efforts also follows to alleviate the loss of yield that is caused by the disaster. The effectiveness of the efforts varies depending on the infrastructure of the nation impacted. For more information about how climate change will affect crop production, see our article on Understanding Climate Change.
Combating the Issue
Depending on a nation’s infrastructure, the response and use of disaster aid may be distributed differently. For more information on our proposed food aid policy, see our article Global Food Aid Policy. However, the method of dealing with disasters can be similar for small farmers. Small farmers are often forced into debt after being hit by natural disasters, as they can’t afford the cost of the damages. Disasters each have different costs associated with them: floods can ruin the crop of an entire region, droughts can force farmers into lower yield for a harvest and tropical storms can cause destruction to storage spaces, machinery, crops, and in the case of hurricanes, cause flooding. Mission 2019 suggests either creating small farmers cooperatives that work together and pool resources, or have community groups that obtain aid from larger corporations (CNBC, 2015) to relieve small farmers of some of the stresses of having to restore farmland. Larger food and beverage companies don’t attach themselves to the small farmers directly, but send aid and possible subsidies for tools and machinery. In return, smallholder farmers then work to produce the food needed by the larger companies (Locke, 2015).
Since the incentives of individual farmers and the larger corporations that they supply food to are not always perfectly aligned, farmers can benefit by organizing themselves in a farmers cooperative. This would help them make better decisions, such as helping individual farmers coordinate production by giving them access to more information to optimize growth. A farmers cooperative is a wide grouping of small farmers who pool resources in order to afford farming items for all members. These groups can also sell necessities in bulk for lower prices. It is cheaper for farmers to buy bulk resources from the cooperatives than to buy directly from other companies (UN FAO). This is useful after a disaster that happens before the farmer has sold enough crops to buy next year’s seed independently. For more information on how farmers’ cooperatives can be used to lessen the damage from natural disasters, please read our article on Farmers’ Cooperatives.
By implementing these methods, farmers can better stabilize their income when faced with disasters. Each disaster is better faced when not encountered as an individual but taken on as a challenge of the entire group in a cooperative. Cooperatives can form rapidly and carry out tasks such as, purchasing bulk items together, while larger companies are more easily able to reach out to small farmers and give aid.
- Small farmers can form cooperatives and develop rules
- Begin collecting funds to purchase tools, seed, or storage
- Develop ways to get farmers to pay to own collective tools
- Large companies search and begin making plans for funds with small farmers
- Cooperatives and business partnerships remain effective, some small farmers begin to separate into their own groups from businesses
- Some cooperatives begin purchasing private silos for the core members
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UN FAO. (n.d.). Putting the right inputs in the hands of Niger’s farmers.
Locke, H. (n.d.). Smallholder farmers are the new global food frontier. Retrieved October 26, 2015, from http://www.theguardian.com/the-b-team-partner-zone/2015/may/12/smallholder-farmers-producers-agriculture-food-women
Revenue loss due to CA drought to top $1 billion. (2015, July 9). Retrieved October 28, 2015, from http://www.cnbc.com/2015/07/09/revenue-loss-due-to-california-drought-to-top-1-billion.html