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