13.12.2022 |

Statistical report looks at changes in food and farming since 2000

Maize - one of the main crops (Photo: CC0)

The world of food and agriculture has changed remarkably since the turn of the millennium. The global production of primary crops increased by more than 50% between 2000 and 2020 while the number of people working in farming worldwide went down 17% in the same period. A new statistical yearbook, published by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations on December 12th, offers a synthesis of the major factors that are relevant in the global food and agricultural landscape. On 380 pages, this annual publication covers themes such as agricultural employment, agrifood trade, fertilizer and pesticide use around the world as well as environmental and climate factors. Much of the information provided can also be found at FAO’s statistical database FAOSTAT but in the yearbook, the facts and figures are easily and quickly accessible and they authors illustrate the most important facts about the past, present and future of food and agriculture with 69 figures, 32 maps and 59 data tables as well as some thematic info boxes. “FAO is committed to ensuring free access to current, reliable, timely and trusted data, necessary to chart a course towards more sustainable and equitable agrifood systems and a world free of hunger,” said José Rosero Moncayo, Director of FAO’s Statistics Division. The statistics which are based on FAOSTAT’s more than 20 000 indicators covering more than 245 countries and territories are presented in four thematic chapters.

Chapter 1 focuses on the economic dimension of agriculture. Today, some 866 million people – or 27 % of the global workforce – work in agriculture (including forestry and fishing), compared with 1 043 million people (or 40 %) in 2000. Between 2000 and 2021, agricultural employment has declined from around 800 million to roughly 580 million people in Asia. This means that more than one out of every four agricultural workers has left the sector for another job outside agriculture in the region. In Europe, half of the agricultural workforce left while in Africa, employment in agriculture increased. The contribution of agriculture, forestry and fishing to the economy grew by 78 % in real terms between 2000 and 2020, reaching USD 3.6 trillion in value added in 2020. This represents an increase of USD 1.6 trillion compared with 2000. In Africa, the value added more than doubled over the period (+147 %), reaching USD 413 billion. Asia was responsible for the largest share, contributing 64 % of the world total in 2020: the continent shows an increase of 91 %, from USD 1.2 trillion in 2000 to USD 2.3 trillion in 2020. Until 2019, the global contribution of agriculture to gross domestic product (GDP) declined, which is expected to accompany the growth of total GDP. Due to the pandemic and the restrictions related to COVID-19, the value added of the industry and services sectors declined while that of agriculture kept increasing, resulting in an artificial jump of the share of agriculture in the total in 2020.

Chapter 1 also looks at inputs. Global pesticides use increased during the period 2000–2020 by 30 %, to 2.7 million tonnes in 2020. Pesticide use peaked in 2012 and began declining slightly in 2017. The Americas were the region that contributed the lion’s share with 51 % of pesticide use, followed by Asia (25 %), Europe (18 %), Africa and Oceania. The share of the Americas increased from 44 to 51 % of global pesticides consumption while that of Asia and Europe decreased by 4-5 points to 25 % and 18 %, respectively. The USA were the largest pesticide user in 2020 in absolute terms with 0.41 million tonnes, or 15 % of the world total, slightly ahead of Brazil (0.38 million tonnes) and China (0.27 million tonnes). The countries with the highest pesticide application per hectare are Saint Lucia with 20 kg/ha, Maldives (17 kg/ha) and Oman (16 kg/ha). Total agricultural use of inorganic fertilizers, expressed as the sum of the three nutrients nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P2O5) and potassium (K2O), was 201 million tonnes in 2020. The share of nitrogen was 56 %, while phosphorus made up 24 % and potassium 20 %. The overall fertilizer use in 2020 was 49 %, higher than in 2000. The use of nitrogen increased by 40 %, of phosphorus by 49 % and potassium by 81 %.

Chapter 2 gives an overview over production, trade and prices of commodities. Between 2000 and 2020, the production of primary crops, such as sugarcane, maize, wheat and rice, grew by 52 %, reaching 9.3 billion tonnes. Cereals were the main group of crops produced in 2020, with roughly one-third of the total. Just four individual crops accounted for about half of global primary crop production: sugar cane (20 % of the total with 1.9 billion tonnes), maize (12 % with 1.2 billion tonnes), wheat and rice (8 % each with 0.8 billion tonnes). For each crop, the top producer also held a sizeable share of the global output. Brazil, for example, accounted for 40 % of world sugar cane production, whereas the USA grew 31% of the world’s maize output. The global production of vegetable oils increased by 125 % between 2000 and 2019, to 208 million tonnes in 2019. Palm oil registered the largest increase with 236 %. It overtook soybean oil as the main vegetable oil produced in 2006 due to the use of palm oil for biodiesel. World meat production reached 337 million tonnes in 2020, up 45 % or 104 million tonnes compared to 2000. With a share of 35 %, chicken meat was the most produced type of meat in 2020, followed by pig meat (33 %). Chicken showed the largest growth in absolute and relative terms since 2000 (+104 % or 61 million tonnes).

The chapter also analyses the FAO Food Price Index, which measures the monthly change in international prices of a basket of food commodities. Since January 2000, the index increased from 85.4 points to 138 points in August 2022. It spiked in 2007/2008 during the food price crisis that saw the price of cereals reach record levels, especially rice and wheat. Food prices skyrocketed again in late 2010 and early 2011 (especially sugar and dairy). The index declined during the early phase of the COVID-19 pandemic reflecting uncertainties faced by commodity markets. However, it climbed between May 2020 and March 2022 to 159.7 points, its highest value ever, due to a combination of factors including the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on the supply chains, the rebound in activity and demand experienced in 2021, and the disruption to exports of cereals and vegetable oils from Russia and Ukraine.

Chapter 3 focuses on food security and nutrition but the figures are quite similar to those already published in the SOFI report that was released in July by five UN agencies. The 20-year trend for the prevalence of undernourishment is frustrating because after a decades-long decline and five years of relative stability since 2014, undernourishment has increased sharply between 2019 and 2020 and rose at a slower pace between 2020 and 2021. Nearly 10 % of the world population suffered from hunger in 2021, compared with 8 % in 2019. The situation is most alarming in Africa: In 2021, 20.2 % of the African population were undernourished. The statistics show that food supply is on the rise. The world average dietary energy supply (DES), measured as calories per person per day, has been increasing steadily to 2,963 kcal per person per day in the period 2019-2021, up 9 % compared with 2000-2002 when the average DES was 2,712 kcal. Food supply is highest in Northern America and Europe with 3,537 kcal per person per day. Africa has the lowest supply with 2,589 kcal. The region first saw a steady increase in DES but it stopped in 2012–2014 and went down again. The fastest increase took place in Asia where dietary energy supply went up 14 % over the last two decades. However, greater availability of food does not necessarily translate into access to it. The report also depicts the other face of malnutrition: Obesity among adults of 18 years and above increased rapidly in every region of the world between 2000 and 2016. In 2016, 13.1 % of the adult population was obese, an increase from 8.7 % in 2000. Oceania and Northern America and Europe had the highest prevalence of adult obesity (both at around 27–28 %), followed by Latin America and the Caribbean.

Chapter 4 deals with the sustainability and environmental aspects of agriculture. Between 2000 and 2020, agricultural land declined by 134 million ha – an area roughly the size of Peru. Some 4.74 billion hectares of the planet’s surface is agricultural land, including meadows and pastures as well as crops. The authors highlight that agriculture is both affected by climate change and an important contributor to greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Total emissions on agricultural land in 2020 amounted to 10.5 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (Gt CO2eq) of GHG released into the atmosphere, a decrease of 4 % compared with 2000. This decline is due to the fact that the decrease in emissions from forest conversion was larger than the increase in farm-gate emissions. Activities within the farm gate accounted for 7.4 Gt CO2eq or 70 % of all emissions in 2020, followed by net forest conversion/ deforestation (28 %) and fires in humid tropical forests and organic soils (2 %). Asia was the top agricultural emitter (36 % of the total) in 2020, followed by the Americas (30 %), Africa (23 %) and Europe (9 %). Of the 7.4 Gt CO2eq of agricultural emissions within the farm gate (those related to the production of crops and livestock), 38 % were from enteric fermentation generated in the digestive system of ruminant livestock. Manure left on pastures accounted for 24 %. Drained organic soils were responsible for a 12 % share, while methane from rice cultivation amounted to 9 %. The most CO2-intensive commodities on average in 2020 were cattle meat (30 kg CO2eq/kg) and sheep meat (24 kg CO2eq/kg), while the emissions intensity of pig and chicken meat was much lower (1.8 kg and 0.6 kg CO2eq/kg respectively). The emissions intensity of cereals is much lower, although rice emits more than five times than wheat and coarse grains. (ab)

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