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Agriculture Needs to Become More Sustainable

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A recent report published by the OECD underlines the failures of existing agricultural policies in achieving their targets in line with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

According to the latest OECD annual report on Agricultural Policy Monitoring and Evaluation, published earlier this month, governments worldwide have spent more on subsidies for farmers in recent years. Still, the money has failed to meet its main targets: to improve food security, livelihoods and environmental sustainability.

The study shows that the 54 monitored countries supported farmers with an average spend of $720 billion annually over the considered period (2018-2020). The report describes roughly half of this support as “distorting, inequitable and harmful to both the environment and global food security.”

More than two-thirds of total support, $540 billion, was directed to individual producers, either in the form of higher prices or through direct payments, accounting for an average of 18% of producers’ gross farm receipts in OECD countries and 12% of gross farm receipts in the twelve emerging economies covered in the report.

Food systems are expected to deliver food security and nutrition for a growing world population. They have an essential role in providing incomes for hundreds of millions of people involved in farming and other sections of the food chain.

Nevertheless, these crucial missions should be delivered sustainably without depleting land, water, and biodiversity resources while contributing to reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. The report insists that the agricultural policies adopted across developed and emerging economies usually do not effectively address sustainability.

The report then suggests some specific actions that could be carried out to support sustainable productivity growth and increased resilience better. Price interventions and market-distorting producer supports could both be phased out to be replaced by transitional assistance and the extension of social safety nets to cope with the resulting reduction in access to food and basic services of the poorer households. Henceforth, public expenditures could be redirected towards investments in public goods, particularly investments in systemic innovations, covering both knowledge generation and its transfer to the sector.

Population growth continues to be a challenge for the agricultural sector in many countries around the world. Still, in most countries, food production systems are unfortunately closely connected with increased greenhouse gas output and the decrease in biodiversity. The latter is mainly caused by the need to increase arable land, which progressively takes away space from forests and uncultivated land and increases the pressure on water and land resources.

However, it is clear that the many factors to be considered, including the progressive impoverishment of small and medium-sized farms, cannot be solved by adopting new policies that concern only the agriculture and food production sector. The current year will see three major events that could help build a global strategy to change the vision of agriculture for the 21st century and accelerate the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals: the COP-26 UN Climate Change Conference, the COP-15 meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity, and the UN Food Systems Summit.

Re-Imagine Europa will also soon present the results of the first part of the work of its “Sustainable Agriculture and Innovation” Task Force. Keep following us for more information!

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