05.07.2021 |

OECD/FAO: “Global agri-food systems need to transform to reach SDGs by 2030”

Agriculture in 2030 - the outlook (Photo: CC0)

Additional efforts in the agricultural and food sector are urgently needed in order to meet global food security and environmental targets, according to a new report released on Monday by the UN Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). Although progress towards the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is expected to be made in the coming decade, the past year of disruptions from COVID-19 has moved the world further away from achieving these goals, especially the Zero Hunger goal (SDG2), the “OECD-FAO Agricultural Outlook 2021-2030” projects. “We have a unique opportunity to set the agri-food sector on a path of sustainability, efficiency and resilience,” OECD Secretary-General Mathias Cormann and FAO Director-General QU Dongyu write in the foreword to the report. “Without additional efforts, the Zero Hunger goal will be missed and greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture will increase further,” they warn. “We must all work together to transform the way the world produces, consumes and thinks about food. An agri-food systems transformation is urgently needed.”

The Outlook is published by the two organisations each year and presents production, consumption, trade and price trends for the main farm and fisheries products at regional, national and global levels for the coming decade. At the time this year’s publication was compiled, the agricultural and food sector has demonstrated high resilience in face of the global COVID-19 pandemic compared to other sectors of the economy, the authors write. The Global Domestic Product (GDP) in 2030 is projected to remain below pre-pandemic projections. The effect of income losses and inflation in consumer food prices have already made access to healthy diets more difficult for many people. The experts say that ensuring food security and healthy diets for a growing global population will thus remain a challenge. According to the report, average global food availability per person is projected to grow by 4% over the next ten years, reaching just over 3,025 kilocalories per day in 2030. However, availability will vary among regions and countries. In low-income countries, food availability is projected to increase by only 3.7% or 89 calories per person per day. In Sub-Saharan Africa, where more than 224 million people are undernourished, daily calorie availability is projected to increase by only 2.5% over the next decade to 2,500 kcal per person in 2030.

The composition of diets is also projected to change in the coming decade. In high-income countries, per capita consumption of meat, fish, dairy, and eggs is expected to grow slowly. The authors write that “health and environmental concerns, together with animal welfare and ethical considerations regarding eating animals are also leading to an increase in the number of vegetarian, vegan or ‘flexitarian’ lifestyles in high-income countries, and in particular among young consumers.” Consumers are also expected to increasingly replace red meat by poultry meat and dairy products. For middle-income countries, the Outlook expects a strong increase of 11% in the per capita availability of animal protein. In low-income countries, economic constraints will only lead to a limited growth in the consumption of animal products, and in Sub-Saharan Africa, per-capita consumption of animal protein is even projected to decline slightly. The composition of diets will also influence global health and there will only be a slow transition towards healthier diets. “At the global level, fats and staples are expected to account for about 60% of the additional calories over the next decade and provide 63% of the available calories by 2030,” the authors project. This trend is reinforced by a higher consumption of processed and convenience food and an increasing tendency to eat outside the home, both associated with ongoing urbanisation and rising women’s participation in the work force. Fruits and vegetables would continue to provide only 7% of the available calories by 2030. The authors point out that additional efforts are needed to increase this share so that a net intake of 400g of fruits and vegetables per person a day is possible for everyone in line with the World Health Organisation’s recommendations. In order to achieve this aim, food loss and waste that is particularly high for these perishable products, also need to be reduced.

The Outlook predicts that global demand for agricultural commodities – including for use as food, feed, fuel and industrial inputs – will grow at 1.2% per year over the coming decade. “Demographic trends, the substitution of poultry for red meat in rich and many middle-income nations, and a boom in per capita dairy consumption in South Asia are expected to shape future demand.” FAO and OECD consider productivity improvements as key to feeding a growing global population sustainably. Of the increases in global crop production expected in 2030, 87% are projected to come from yield improvements. “Regional yield gaps are expected to narrow over the coming decade, as yields of the main crops are projected to increase in India and Sub-Saharan Africa through better adapted seeds and improved crop management,” says the report. Expansion of cropland is projected to account for 6% of total growth in crop production over the next decade. In addition, 7% will come from increases in cropping intensity which will be driven by the adoption of multi-cropping and new crop varieties and by investments to expand the growing season through technological improvements, such as irrigation systems that allow cultivation during the dry season. A large share of the projected expansion in livestock and fish production is to result from productivity gains. However, in emerging economies and low-income countries, herd enlargement will also contribute to livestock production growth.

The Outlook also highlights the significant contribution of agriculture to climate change. Global greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture are projected to increase by 4% over the next ten years, mostly due to expanding livestock production which accounts for more than 80% of this increase. This is despite the fact that the carbon intensity of agricultural production is expected to decline over the coming decade because direct agricultural greenhouse gas emissions are projected to grow at a lower rate than agricultural production. Thus, additional policy effort will be needed for the agricultural sector to effectively contribute to the global reduction in greenhouse gas emissions as set in the Paris Agreement, the authors find. There is a strong need for investments in, and the global implementation of, solutions to improve the environmental sustainability of the agricultural sector, the Mathias Cormann and QU Dongyu point out. “While policy makers are understandably focused on overcoming the immediate COVID-19-related challenges, decisions made now will shape the future of the agriculture sector. There is thus a unique opportunity at this juncture to “build back better”, and to set the sector on a path of sustainability, efficiency and resilience,” the OECD and FAO heads stress in the foreword to the report. (ab)

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