Policy Action in Agriculture: Providing solutions from plate to planet

Agriculture and food systems face the triple challenge of ensuring food security, providing livelihoods and improving sustainability. Sustainable productivity growth has to increase significantly—in other words, the sector must do more with less.
Policy Action in Agriculture: Providing solutions from plate to planet
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Recent events have demonstrated the importance of global food chains. Following supply chain disruptions at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic—and now with high prices and the risk of rising insecurity in the face of Russia’s large-scale aggression against Ukraine—food is on everyone’s mind.

Longer-term challenges also demand policy attention. Agriculture and food systems face a formidable triple challenge: ensuring food security for a growing global population; providing livelihoods along the food chain; and enhancing the sustainability of the sector and its contribution to climate change mitigation. To meet these challenges, sustainable productivity growth in the agricultural sector has to increase significantly—in other words, the sector must do more with less.

With 2030 Sustainable Development Goal deadlines to meet and Paris Agreement targets fast approaching, policy makers must make sustainable productivity growth in agriculture an urgent priority.

But while public support for agriculture has reached record levels, the share of support allocated to spurring sustainable productivity growth in the sector has decreased.

Our new OECD Agricultural Monitoring and Evaluation 2022 report shows that total support for the agricultural sector reached USD 817 billion per year from 2019-21 for the 54 countries covered: a 13% increase compared to 2018-20. Yet spending on general services for the sector—such as innovation (R&D), biosecurity or infrastructure—again represented a relatively small share of support, at little more than one in eight dollars of the total transferred to the sector. Overall, support to general services accounted for 13% of total transfers to the sector in 2019-21, down from 16% a decade earlier. Despite their critical importance for achieving both climate change and food systems goals, these investments have continued to fall over the past two decades.

Unsurprisingly, productivity growth in agriculture has also slowed significantly in the last decade. With deadlines to meet the 2030 Sustainable Development Goal on Zero Hunger (SDG 2), as well as Paris Agreement targets to lower agricultural greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions fast approaching, policy makers must make sustainable productivity growth in agriculture an urgent priority.

Saving Surf and Tending Turf: A no regrets move on the path to transforming our food systems by Aileen Lee, Chief Program Officer, Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation 

Saving Surf and Tending Turf: A no regrets move on the path to transforming our food systems by Aileen Lee, Chief Program Officer, Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation Follow

At the OECD, we look forward to working with Agriculture Ministers to design innovative and forward-looking policies that work from plate to planet.

The latest OECD-FAO Agricultural Outlook 2022-2031 projections further emphasise that a “business-as-usual” approach will not only put global food security at risk but also see GHG emissions from agriculture continue to increase. Average global agricultural productivity would need to grow by 28% over the next decade to meet SDG targets and stay within climate commitments. That’s a lot; in fact, it’s a 3x increase over the experience of the past decade. For crops, it means a 24% increase in average global yields, almost double that achieved over the past decade (13%). Global animal productivity would also have to increase by 31% on average, a rate of growth vastly exceeding growth recorded over the past 10 years. To monitor progress in sustainable productivity growth, a method for comparable measurement is necessary. Recent OECD research on Agricultural Total Factor Productivity and the Environment is a major step in this direction.

More comprehensive and immediate action is needed to ensure agriculture can provide transformative solutions to global challenges. Boosted investment in R&D and infrastructure are critical. Knowledge transfer, technology and skills are urgently required to get the agricultural sector on the necessary trajectory for sustainable productivity growth, ensuring global food security and achieving environmental goals. Efforts to reduce food loss and waste and limit excess calorie and protein intakes, particularly from animal sources, are also necessary to support sustainable food systems. And with the right policy measures, agriculture can contribute more to climate solutions, too. For instance, net soil carbon sequestration on agricultural lands could offset 4% of global, human-induced GHG emissions every year for the rest of the century.

Increasing agricultural productivity growth in order to meet country commitments under the SDG Agenda and the Paris Agreement will feature high on the agenda of the forthcoming OECD Meeting of Agriculture Ministers, Building Sustainable Agriculture and Food Systems in a Changing Environment: Shared Challenges, Transformative Solutions. This meeting will take place at the OECD’s headquarters in Paris, 3–4 November 2022. The timing (a week before the 27th session of the Conference of the Parties to the UN Climate Change Convention) will allow Agriculture Ministers to bring their contributions to climate change from Paris to Sharm El-Sheik. At the OECD, we look forward to working with Agriculture Ministers to design innovative and forward-looking policies that work from plate to planet.




Read the latest OECD-FAO Agricultural Outlook 2022-2031 for data, country reviews and further OECD work on trade and agriculture!

Find out more about the latest OECD-FAO Agricultural Outlook 2022-2031

Find out more about the OECD Meeting of Agriculture Ministers, which builds on other global high-level events and will feed into the international agenda of agricultural policy-making

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Go to the profile of Dr. Imme Gerke
5 months ago

If I describe the situation in the shortest way possible I would say that we need to build processing plants for crops everywhere. Doing so protects foods from spoiling, creates jobs and allows producing countries participation in global trade. The consequences are: (1) poorer countries no longer have to export non-renewable resources but renewable resources, (2) buing power is created, (3) food gets to where it is needed, (4) we prevent food loss, (5) farmers are paid the actual value of their crops, and (6) farmers grow more crops.

Go to the profile of Jacques Drolet
5 months ago

Dear Marion,

OECD has contributed enormously to global regulatory harmonization since 1995. In spite of this work, and the lukewarm FAO participation, the actual lack of harmonization is one of the main key bottlenecks to food, human, and environmental safety.  Yet, countries continue to work independently (even in the EU in spite of various harmonization laws) in a nationalistic way that has nothing to do with safety, but more with abuse of power and populism. For the G7 countries, this means that most new safer plant health products can not be used which leads to trade irritants, and food destruction (for example EU's RASFF), or simply to the continued use of products that threatened human and environmental safety. For all other countries, this leads to a more dramatic lack of food and environmental safety and reduced or absence of trade, all incompatible with the SDGs.

Your words "doing more with less" are a perfect fit in this case, where true global regulatory harmonization would provide the critically needed paradigm shift to allow agriculture production and trade to be the economic powerhouse they need to be.

We, (my wife and colleague for over the last 35 years) have worked with the OECD as civil servants for 10 years, and for the last 10 years as consultants in Europe, Africa, South and North America, and less in Asia. Although we reach somewhere, we are barely making a difference.

Would you be interested in a zoom session of max 1 hour, in which we could explain where we are in our regulatory harmonization process and consider what it would take to "do a lot more with a lot less" and attain the so-called "easy to reach apple" that can feed the world, in a sustainable way. This is not a marketing argument, just the outcome of 35 years of experience from two passionate regulatory and government advisors.

Respectfully,

Jacques & Imme

https://www.idrg.eu/

Isn't much of the increase in "public support" due to the skyrocketing amount of fertilisers being bought across Africa, which is certain to ruin their already fragile soils and deoxygenate what little freshwater they have? Who is benefitting? A few large agrichemical companies in rich countries, keen to expand their markets in less technically proficient parts of the world while regions such as Europe get smarter about their use. The quality of public support matters more than the numbers. Nature-based solutions are cheaper, and better tailored to geographical specifics. Tackling diffuse pollution from agriculture and redirecting those fines to support non-polluting and biodiversity-enhancing farms will quickly change the behaviour that has been allowed to wreck ecosystems the world over.

Go to the profile of Kieran Jones
3 months ago

Hi Lucy, thanks for your comment! Your point that the “quality of public support matters more than the numbers” echoes our own message that the “composition of support is at least as important as its level”, and we strongly recommend to reduce and phase out the forms of support that are most harmful to environment, climate and markets, and to reform other support to better target needy farmers and sustainable productivity growth, while putting in place carbon prices or other measures to effectively reduce agricultural emissions. 

By way of background for the wider picture on fertiliser support: the OECD does indeed report significant support related to the use of variable inputs such as fertilisers—not in Africa, but in several South and South-East Asian countries (notably India and Indonesia). While overuse of fertilisers is an issue locally, such support more generally distorts fertiliser use ratios away from what would be optimal on a given field or for a given product. Support provided for fuel, electricity or water can have similarly harmful effects for the environment.

For more information, check out our recent publications: OECD Agricultural Policy Monitoring and Evaluation 2022 and the OECD-FAO Agricultural Outlook 2022-2031.

Go to the profile of B. Yerram Raju
5 months ago

The Report and the blog are very informative. Keeping soil health and optimal water use and climate-resilient crop rotation are the key to sustainable farm-to-fork strategies. Technology exchange costs should be kept within the reach of the small farmer in the developing countries to keep the world's goal to no-starvation nation.

Excellent article and more successes SDGs