Chapter 4 Ensuring sufficient availability of sustainably produced, nutrient-rich food

Key messages

A pre-requisite for universal access to  sustainable, healthy diets is that there  be sufficient availability of appropriate  foods. Today, agriculture and related  food policies are not supporting  healthy diets at the most fundamental  level. They are simply not producing  enough of the foods needed for healthy  diets globally. Supply constraints are  not the only problem: all aspects of the  food system interact to determine what  is physically available to a consumer at a particular price point. But it is essential  to ensure that sufficient quantities of  nutrient-rich foods are available to  everyone. To achieve this, more funds  need to flow to secure the supply of  staple foods while also significantly  increasing the support for non-staples.

Guiding principles for action. The  following represent important actions  to frame the transition:

  1. Policy needs to rebalance what is  produced to ensure sufficiency of  nutrient-rich foods. The quantity  of foods produced will continue to  be very important. But in the future,  any food supply agenda must be  coupled with an equivalent food  quality agenda so that the world  has more food than at present and  more nutrient-rich foods produced  in sustainable ways.
  2. Enhancing the role of smallholder  farms. It will be important for  governments and their development  partners to find ways to support and  enhance smallholder production  and diets in ways that promote their  health as well contributing more to emissions reduction, optimising natural resources use, and even  carbon sequestration through  enhanced agroforestry practices.
  1. Refocus on how things are grown:  the sustainable intensification of agriculture. Three steps are involved in achieving this:
    • Step 1: Improving efficiency. New agricultural technologies will continue to be important for  food security, poverty reduction  and efficiency gains in the use of scarce natural resources. But  new directions in the types of  technologies will be required.
    • Step 2: Substitution. This goes beyond doing more with less. Rather, it involves substituting less environmentally  harmful practices for more  environmentally beneficial  practices.
    • Step 3: Redesigning the  production system. While  efficiency gains and substitution  are typically additive and create marginal changes within  current production systems, a realignment of food systems  towards sustainable, healthy  diets would entail the most  transformative changes across systems.
  2. Refocus food policy agendas from  a focus on agricultural output to  increasing the efficiency of entire  food systems. Food systems remain  inefficient from many perspectives.

Three major policy shifts are needed.  Each has potential to distribute huge  economic benefits.

  1. Rebalance subsidies to enhance  local and global supplies of  nutrient-rich foods. Most subsidies  today keep supply and relative  prices out of balance with the food patterns needed to support  sustainable, healthy diets. Even a  relatively modest shift in subsidies  (e.g. 25%) could have a major effect.
  2. Rebalance agricultural research  and development (R&D) from  a commodity focus to a food  system focus. Increase funding  overall, but especially for actions that increase the supply of nutrient-  rich foods through sustainable and  resilient farming systems.
  3. Rebalance production incentives  to deliver sustainable, healthy  diets. Investing in different  approaches, goals, metrics of success and reward systems  relating to food production would  represent a very substantial shift  in investment patterns, market  agendas, policy priorities and on-the-ground activities across the world. This includes a significant  renewed focus on sustainable  intensification, reforestation for carbon sequestration, and  promotion of efficiency gains  over a single narrow focus on  productivity gains. The potential  exists to generate massive rural  as well as urban employment opportunities in low- and middle-  income countries (LMICs) in  particular (for which agriculture  and related sectors and services  still represent a significant share  of economic activity).
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Part I of this report argued that food  systems are failing in two ways. They are  not supporting healthy diets for everyone  across the world, and the way that food  systems currently function means that  they will not be able to sustain healthy  diets in the future. The sustainability of food systems is itself threatened  by climate change impacts and the  degradation of natural resources.

Part II focuses on actions required across  food systems to allow for an effective  transition to a different, transformed  future. This chapter starts by focusing  on how food is produced today. It then  sets out why there needs to be a major  shift towards more nutrient-rich foods  and fewer energy-dense crops used as ingredients for ultra-processed products,  livestock feed or fuel. In addition, food  production must refocus on becoming  efficiently sustainable rather than just  profitably productive. These steps are  essential to ensure that sustainable high-quality diets are available for all.

The discussions in Part I made the case for change, while  guiding policymakers on the actions needed in a transition  process. As Chapter 3 emphasised, unless all countries commit  to giving the sustainable production of food much greater  priority, environmental degradation and climate change will  drive the vicious circles which make it ever harder to deliver  what is needed.

Building on the conceptual pillars of food  security, this chapter looks at how to deliver sufficient  availability of food (with its root being the production of food from agriculture), while subsequent chapters look  at other pillars: accessibility and affordability. This chapter  begins by taking a backwards look at the drivers which  have led to the current food systems, before looking ahead to define what transformed food systems may look like. It then  lays out principles for action which are essential both globally  and in LMICs to achieve the goals of a sufficient supply of food  that is both nutrient-rich and sustainably produced.

The goal of this chapter is to identify the priority actions for  agriculture needed to ensure availability of the right foods – and  the right mix of foods – to deliver sustainable, healthy diets for  the future. 1

4.1 Trends in agriculture

Agriculture and food systems have been shaped by a diverse  range of cultural, political, and economic influences. In particular,  agriculture is increasingly seen as an important vehicle for  producing goods to drive economic growth, including the  production of commodities for export.). In many countries,  agricultural and trade policies are somewhat distanced from  policies related to nutrition, health, and environmental quality.

Looking back, perhaps the focus has been too much  on increasing yields rather than ensuring a sustainable  supply of food to deliver health through nutrition  (see Box 4.1).

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4.1.1 What is agriculture incentivised  to produce today?

Food systems are driven by agriculture and trade policies  (which influence producer costs and incentives) as well as  by commercial and consumer demand, typically mediated through farm gate prices (see Box 4.2). The benefits that some  types of crops and commodities experience relative to others is  determined by various factors, including government subsidies,  trade promotion and restrictions, technological developments, increasing scale and intensity of agriculture, population and  income growth, changing dietary preferences and lifestyles,  and more.

Food companies have been developing new  processed foods using ever-larger quantities of staple cereals,  sugar, and vegetable oil as ingredients.

Unsurprisingly, some  of the largest land area expansion in past decades has been  dedicated to starchy grains (such as wheat and maize) and oil crops (such as soybean, sunflower, palm oil, rape, and mustard)  for use as food and livestock feed. The commodities that saw  the largest relative and absolute abundance in national food  supplies (on a per capita basis) were the world’s major cereals:  rice, wheat and maize. 2 3 Thus, the global expansion of land area for farming was largely for commodities associated  with diets that were calorically rich but relatively poor in micronutrients.

Box 4.1: Limitations in how we typically interpret the functions of agriculture

The success of agriculture is usually evaluated according to narrow criteria focused on productivity (particularly yield per unit area of land). 4 5 That approach has driven substantial increases in calorie supply globally since the 1960s.
As discussed in Chapter 3, it has also been accompanied by an insufficient supply of nutrient-rich foods (in relation to need), degraded natural resources, and a significant contribution to climate-threatening emissions. Yield increases

in recent decades have allowed growing demand to be met without increasing the conversion of natural habitats into agricultural land, and the potential GHG emissions and biodiversity loss associated with that. 6 7 However, the increasing intensification of production contributes to other environmental problems: for example, the over-application of synthetic inputs, degradation of soils, and homogenisation of landscapes leaving little space for nature.

Box 4.2: Food and agricultural policies affect what foods are available

Globally, 70% of the total food energy consumed comes from only three food groups – starchy staples, sugar, and oils and fats – which are all cheap sources of calories. To some extent, this narrow focus on a few calorically rich commodities is driven by food and agricultural policies that both HICs and LMICs have implemented during the last 50-70 years. 8

Historically, food security policies were mainly concerned with improving poor people’s access to affordable calories. These policies took different forms. Public agricultural research concentrated on productivity increases in a few staple grains, such as wheat, rice and maize. 9 10 11 In many developing countries, staple grain production was further incentivised through market procurement programmes, infrastructure support, irrigation, credit, and input subsidies tied to these crops. 12

Many LMICs also provided consumer subsidies for staple grains. For example, India has a large public distribution system for subsidised rice and wheat. Egypt had a subsidy programme for wheat bread and other staple foods. 156 To avoid disincentives to production, some countries implemented price support schemes for grain-producinfarmers. In China, national self-sufficiency in rice is still

an important food security goal and is fostered through a minimum support price policy for rice. The Philippines has also implemented market price support systems for producers. 13

In high income regions – such as North America and Europe – most farm price support schemes that had existed for several decades shifted in the 1990s from subsidies to direct income transfers to farmers, decoupled from specific commodities. 14 However, the policy focus on a few grains, sugar, and oilseeds in these regions over decades (from the 1950s to the 1990s) contributed to a relatively narrow production base and low levels of agricultural diversity.

These policies helped to increase grain output, which also supported rising livestock production and improved the availability of calories. However, the same policies may also have slowed the process of dietary diversification to include more nutrient-rich foods, especially in LMICs. The focus on cheap calories also distorted the relative prices of foods so that the consumer price of staple grains fell relative to the prices of fruits, vegetables, and other nutrient-rich foods. Fostering more diverse food production and consumption patterns will require changes in the focus of agricultural and food policies.

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Figure 4.1 illustrates changes in the relative shares of crops in the  five decades from 1960, in terms of total energy (calories).

This  shows that some crops which declined in abundance relative to  the total supply were nutrient-rich whole grains like millets, oats,  and sorghum, as well as fruits and vegetables (including sweet  potatoes, bananas, pulses, dates, grapes, and coconuts).

While  some other fruits and vegetables increased in abundance, they  did so at lower rates than the major calorically rich commodities. Figure 4.1 therefore paints a mixed picture.

The crops that have been increasingly incentivised to be produced are typically  calorie-rich, whereas many nutrient-rich crops conducive to  healthy diets have declined in relative importance.

Today, if everyone were to try to access all the foods needed  for high quality, nutrient-rich, diets – including fruits and  vegetables, or fish, nuts, or pulses – they would not be able to do so.

The world does not produce enough to meet that  notional demand (set in this case using one example of a  reference diet proposed by Harvard University focused solely  on enhancing human health (see Figure 4.2).

The implication  could not be clearer: existing agriculture and related food  policies, including those that influence food markets, are not supporting healthy diets at the most basic level i.e. production.


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4.1.2 Not enough nutrient-rich foods  are available worldwide

Existing policies and financial incentives in agriculture and food  are not supporting the production of enough of the foods  needed for healthy diets globally (see figure 4.2). Using this as  evidence, many refer to ‘broken food systems’. 17 18 However,  food systems are in fact currently delivering what they were  designed to deliver: plentiful food (calories) in the form of mainly  staple grains, which are produced and sold at prices affordable to most (albeit not all) consumers, and underpinned by global  markets. One of the results, indeed the goals, of traditional  food policies has been to lower the price of staple foods  (primarily cereal grains) and much of the policy environment,  from agricultural R&D, to agricultural support to trade policies  has been designed to facilitate this rather than to deliver more diversity of nutrient-rich safe foods through sustainable, resilient food systems (see Box 4.2).

Support for this approach was based on recognition  of the imperative to eradicate famines of the past and to feed increasing numbers of city-based consumers who  did not grow their own food. The period since the 1950s  has been defined by these policy goals, resulting in a set  of remarkable trends:

  1. historically high global output of food (mainly cereals),  resulting in:
  2. a downward trend in the real price of calories in most  parts of the world, leading to:
  3. many more people meeting minimum energy needs than ever before.

This highly successful outcome has been achieved by  productivity gains (triggered in the 1960s through public  agricultural research), through land expansion, and by  government price supports of various kinds. 19

This success does not, of course, mean that all people have  benefitted, since in 2019 there were still around 690 million  individuals classified as chronically undernourished. In early 2020,  there were 44 countries, of which 32 were in Africa, deemed to  be “in need of external assistance for food” – that is, requiring  loans, financial aid, or in-kind food assistance. Such contexts are  particularly fragile in the face of climate or other hazards such as pest outbreaks, droughts, or pandemics. By necessity, these  countries are especially reliant on external assistance. 20 In wealthy  and poor countries alike, income inequality, together with  inadequate national programmes to support minimally adequate  diets (in nutrient terms) for vulnerable individuals, means that  there are too many suffering the consequences of inadequate diets even in the context of plenty.

The world’s food supply continues to grow. 21 On average, most  countries’ food supply has increased over the past 50 years in  terms of energy, protein, fat, and food weight. Oils as a food  group had the most substantial increase (see Figure 4.3). 22

However, the composition of countries’ food availability  (defined as the number and relative abundances of crops and  animal products that contribute to energy, protein, fat and  food weight) have converged, with variation between food  supplies in different countries decreasing on average by 69%.  This is because throughout the world, food systems are focused  on a diminishing number of crops. 23 Global dependence on a relatively small set of crops equates to a large dependence on monocropping systems. As discussed in Chapter 3, such  farming systems are associated with substantial externalised  costs on the environment. And while steps are being made  toward sustainable intensification (see Section 4.4), the overall  sustainability of single crop monocultures remains limited.


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Intensive production systems are by design highly productive per  unit area, increasing the affordability of these foods worldwide,  despite their impacts on the environment. The ensuing plentiful  supply of macronutrients, at relatively low cost, has led to a  growing number of countries experiencing an overall excess of calories consumed (see Chapter 2). 27 28

Policymakers today are at the end of a decades-long era of  agricultural development, and agricultural markets which have  been incentivised to drive up the yields of a relatively small  number of calorie-rich crops. However, the growing evidence  for ill-health of populations worldwide, underpinned by poor access to high-quality, nutrient-rich diets, suggests that  policymakers must now pay special attention to the supply of nutrients beyond calories. This need is exemplified in Figure  4.4, which summarises regional trends in national food supplies  from 1961 to 2011. Across the world, energy availability per  person has increased rapidly (see Figure 4.4A) but the levels of  micronutrients in food (estimated by the micronutrient density  index in Figure 4.4B) have remained much more static over the  decades. For sub-Saharan Africa, these have actually declined  since 1961.

East Asian countries are the outliers, showing a sharp increase  in nutrient-rich food content as well as energy supply per  capita. However, LMICs are a considerable distance from such  gains. Figure 4.5 shows the supply of vegetables per capita as a percentage of a 300g recommendation. Only six of 16 regions  supply vegetables above this level. In particular, sub-Saharan  Africa, South-East Asia and Latin America and the Caribbean  do not have sufficient vegetable supplies to meet a 300g  recommended intake. A fundamental change will be needed  so that the imbalance between what is actually produced and  what is needed for healthy and sustainable nutrition can be  rectified. The subsequent sections in this chapter focus on how  this can be done.

4.2 Looking ahead: a transformed food system

Before the question of how food production and food  systems can be transformed, the question of what is meant  by ‘transformed food systems’ needs to be considered. While  the answer to that important question will vary by region,  culture, and ideology, it is important for stakeholders in every country to discuss alternative visions of a future in which food  systems are sustainably supporting healthy diets. While the  details will vary, essential elements will be largely common  (see Box 4.3).

Box 4.3: Core elements of transformed food systems

The goal of transformed food systems is for everyone to  be able to access healthy, balanced, and sustainable diets.  Meeting this means:

  • High-quality diets are affordable for everyone. As described in Chapter 6, across the world, sustainable, healthy diets could be less costly than today’s diets for  some, although substantial effort is likely to be needed  to ensure they are affordable to many of the poor.  Price distortions towards calorically rich commodities  need to be abolished and the cultivation of more  nutrient-rich crops must be promoted. More diverse  production patterns will lead to more diverse and  healthy consumption patterns.
  • All foods are produced in ways that are sustainable in terms of planetary boundaries. In terms of the total impact of global agriculture, it is consistent with  meeting Paris climate goals, leaving space for nature,  farming in a way that has low impact on land, fresh  water, air, or biodiversity.
  • Shifts in dietary patterns are achieved. The goal would not be for a single universal diet, but rather a marked shift towards a range of enhanced, culturally  relevant choices that favour nutrient-rich foods  produced sustainably.

The benefits of long-term food system transformation will include:

  • Fewer diet-related diseases. This means significantly less healthcare expenditure, less preventable premature  mortality, fewer days of productive work lost to  sickness, and greater productivity at work.
  • Less hunger. This means significantly fewer people living on the margins, from hand-to-mouth, posing a moral and resource challenge to policymakers  the world over.
  • Fewer climate-induced shocks to the food system. This means significantly less humanitarian aid, and fewer disruptions to food supply chains.
  • Better nutrition and health across the world. This  means significantly more human capital, learning,  educational attainment, and social well-being.
  • Better equity in incomes, dietary access, and nutrition, supporting significantly more wealth creation and healthier societies.
  • Better husbandry of the world’s productive resources.  This means a reduction in degradation, pollution, and the  depletion of natural resources, with improved ecosystem  services leading to benefits to food production  (recovered biodiversity, pollinator resurgence, etc.)
  • More employment across the food system, from farming through to marketing, processing, and retail.
  • More positive contributions of the food system to addressing the climate crisis (carbon sequestration, tree planting, etc.)

A pre-requisite for universal access to healthy diets is that there be sufficient amounts of nutrient-rich foods for everyone.

At the outset, policymakers need to be clear what these terms mean in their own contexts. Supplying the right amount  may help promote healthy eating and greater sustainability  (see Box 4.3). Meeting demand might lead to people eating  unhealthily if societies have a preference for eating energy-rich  foods. Supplying an excess may lead to resilience in the face of  interruptions but otherwise lead to wasted food, with its high environmental costs.

How much food is needed to fulfil the nutritional needs of  people, while protecting the planet? At the moment, the world  does not grow sufficient food for diets containing sufficient  nutrient-rich foods (see Figure 4.2), but demand will further  increase as the world’s population increases, and economic  growth raises disposable incomes, allowing people to access  better diets. As the world’s population approaches a possible 9.5 billion by mid-century, there will be a need for both more  food – to feed more mouths – and for different foods to support  healthier diets.

4.3 Principles for actions to transform the food system

Actions to transform food systems will need to be tailored to the context of a particular place, culture, climate, or society.  However, a number of guiding principles can be discerned that  are broadly applicable across contexts. These include focusing  on what is grown, how it is grown and by whom, rather than  just considering its yield. Another principle is the recognition  that agriculture is part of broader food systems, with agricultural  production not being the end itself. These principles will guide  fundamental shifts in policy goals and approaches.

4.3.1 Policy needs to rebalance what is produced  to ensure sufficiency of nutrient-rich foods

Ensuring healthy diets for all will require a change in policy  priorities, in which the focus shifts from quantity to quality. The  quantity of foods produced will continue to be very important,  not least in view of the increasing global population, but also  to address current high levels of hunger and undernutrition in parts of sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia.

But in the future,  any food supply agenda must be coupled with an equivalent  food quality agenda so that the world has more food than at  present and more nutrient-rich foods produced in sustainable  ways. Of course, what is produced is not only determined by  supply-side influences such as agroecology, prices, and local  policies. It is also determined by what commercial enterprises  wish to use in developing and selling food products, and what  consumers expressly want to purchase. These are dealt with in  later chapters of this report.

From a supply perspective, ensuring  greater availability of nutrient-rich foods will require:

  1. Responding to rising future demand for nutrient-rich foods of many kinds,
  2. A gradual decline in per capita consumption of cereals, but ensuring adequate calorie consumption by the 690 million or so individuals who today remain chronically undernourished, and
  3. Ensuring that food systems can deliver necessary foods on  a continuing basis.

Providing sufficient but not excess food for all to lead a healthy  life, and to do this sustainably, explicitly requires agriculture to  produce many different crops and livestock, in different ways.  This will require innovations in many areas. 29

In terms of rebalancing production, the world’s food systems  need to produce a great deal more of the kinds of foods that  all people should eat to become and remain healthy and well-  nourished. National food-based dietary guidelines and WHO  recommendations promote greater consumption of fruits,  vegetables, pulses, and nuts. Hence:

Systematic public policy targeting the constraints to producing and consuming fruits, vegetables, pulses, and nuts will be needed.

Mason-D’Croz et al. (2019) 30

Similarly, there is a serious disconnect between recommended  fish intake and projected outputs globally from both wild  catch and aquaculture by 2030,31 while for dairy there would  also be a gap between what people should be able to eat and what is available for them to eat. 32 In other words, few  if any countries in the world produce or import the range  of foods that would be required if all their citizens were to  eat healthy diets.

This is, therefore, a fundamental challenge that needs to be faced  by policymakers and the food industry. In short, it implies the  need for a substantial systemic change to support a markedly  different and healthier profile of consumer demand in the next  decade and beyond.

However, there are two important qualifications that need  to be made. 33 First, on trade. Few if any countries will ever  be able to ensure domestic production of all the foods  needed to support healthy diets, so the distribution of food  is as important as its production, and the ability for people to work their land. The ultimate goal is to ensure that everyone  can eat a range of nutrient-rich products to complement (be eaten with) an appropriate range of staple foods (cereal  grains or tubers).

Despite constraints imposed on food trade by national  policy responses to global emergencies, such as the global  food price spikes of 2007/8, 2010/11, and the 2020 pandemic,  the importance of supporting a flow of foods across borders  is key to allowing for optimal use of land and other factor

Per capita consumption of fruits and vegetables in developing countries is expected to surpass that of developed countries by 2050

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inputs; that is, using the natural comparative advantage of  growing the crops and livestock best suited to the locality.  Resilience in food systems is not synonymous with a country  being self-sufficient.

Secondly, the rebalancing of production necessary to support  healthier diets is not to suggest that staple foods will cease to be  important in the future. While more nutrient-dense foods need  to be available, there will still be a continuing need to ensure an adequate supply of staple foods in the decades ahead. Past  gains in productivity cannot be allowed to degrade in the future,  but much more effort is needed to increase the productivity of  nutrient-dense food like pulses, vegetables, and fruit.

4.3.2 Refocus on who produces: enhancing  the role of smallholder farms

Much has been made in the past about the need for farm  consolidation to optimise economies of scale in production. 35 That recommendation was typically based on profitability  parameters, and an awareness of the large risks borne by  smallholder producers in most semi-arid environments of sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. It was also based on the  understanding that throughout history, while agriculture has  been a critically important engine of macroeconomic growth,  the number of people mainly engaged in agriculture (for most  of their income) declines as economies become larger and  the contribution of the sector to GDP becomes much smaller  relative to industry, services, tourism and more. 36

Recent assessments suggest that smallholder farmers will have  an important role to play in the future as:

  1. specialised producers of nutrient-rich foods, particularly  through horticulture (for which huge scale-economies  matter relatively less),
  2. employers, particularly of youth in sub-Saharan Africa, where  rural areas will still be home to a majority of people into the  second half of this century,
  3. a source of own-grown diet quality (as measured by diversity)  (see Box 4.4). 37

Therefore, it will be important for governments and their  development partners to find ways to support and enhance  smallholder production and diets in ways that promote health  as well as contributing more to emissions reduction, optimising  natural resources use, and even carbon sequestration through  enhanced agroforestry practices.

Box 4.4: Farm production diversity and dietary diversity among smallholders

As many people suffering from nutritional deficiencies are  smallholder farmers, diversifying production on these farms  is often considered a good strategy to improve diets and  nutrition. But is this really the case? Recent studies with data  from many LMICs suggest that farm production diversity is  positively associated with dietary diversity in some situations,  but not in others 38 39 41 42

A meta-analysis 43 showed that on  average, farms would have to produce 16 additional crop or  livestock species to increase dietary diversity by one single  food group. Hence, there is little evidence that increasing  farm production diversity is an effective strategy to improve  smallholder diets in most or all situations.

Increasing farm production diversity may sometimes  even have negative nutrition effects – for example when  production diversity is already high. Producing too many species on a very small farm can lead to income losses through

forgone gains from specialisation. Smaller farms focused on the  consumption of own production often produce more than 10 different species on their plots. 44 Pushing these farms towards  even higher diversity may perpetuate subsistence and reduce  market and development opportunities. Improving market  access and market functioning are generally more promising  development strategies. 45 46 Even subsistence-oriented  households typically obtain a larger share of their dietary  diversity from the market than from their own farm. 47 48 49

Of course, affordable access to diverse foods from the market  requires that farmers produce these foods. But diversity at  the food systems level does not mean that every farmer has  to be extremely diverse. If efficient local, regional and global  markets for a wide range of nutrient-rich foods exist, food  systems will become more diverse without every farmer  having to maximise diversity.


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In 2016 there were 570 million smallholders globally. 51 Recent data from FAO showed that smallholder activities in agriculture  still contribute an important share of food production in South  Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, particularly in countries such as  China (roughly 80%) and India (over 45%), and low-income  countries as a whole (over 40%) (see Figure 4.6).

This means that  policymakers in LMICs need to reconnect with the contributions  of smallholder farmers. Initiatives aimed at shifting relative  product prices, supporting technological innovations, investing  in market infrastructure to reduce transactions costs, facilitating  access to information and credit, and promoting access to new seed systems must all take the needs and constraints  of smallholders into account.

4.3.3 Refocus on how things are grown: the sustainable intensification of agriculture

As highlighted in Chapter 3, the agricultural intensification  seen in previous decades has created significant negative  environmental impacts. Given the environmental costs, and  pending environmental breakdown, it is crucial that any further  productivity growth (increases in outputs per unit area) occurs  without the environmental harm that has been typical to date. This is the notion of ‘sustainable intensification’ (SI). Conceptually,  SI broadly overlaps with the notion of ‘climate-smart agriculture’.  This encompasses agricultural practices that avoid driving climate  change and build resilience to future climate impacts (e.g. building  soil carbon stocks to mitigate climate change and build fertility).

The intensification of agriculture can come about through  many routes, not simply through the intensification of capital-  rich technologies and inputs. Examples include new inputs of  knowledge, innovations in labour, enhancing natural processes  to deliver yield improvements (agroecological intensification), evidence-based integrated pest management systems, and others. 52

The sustainable intensification of agriculture must be a priority  policy objective. 53 It should be aimed at maintaining and  enhancing yields while reducing environmental impacts, and  it involves three closely interconnected stages: 54

  1. Efficiency improvements mean that inefficiencies in the use  of scarce resources are reduced. This is particularly true for  land, water, agrochemicals, and other external inputs. The  right amount of nutrients should be applied at the right time,  in the right place. (see Section 4.3.4).
  2. Substitution means that existing ways of production  and handling can (and often should) be replaced by new practices and technologies which foster sustainability  whilst maintaining or improving yields. For example,  replacing synthetic pesticides through host-plant resistance  and using the ecology of pests’ natural enemies.
  3. System redesign involves systemic change in farming (and  food systems) to deliver sustainable, healthy diets. For  example, adoption of circular agriculture, or agroecology,  agrobiodiversity, or diversified farming systems.

4.3.3.1 SI step 1: Improving efficiency

Productivity growth in agriculture through technologies such  as improved seeds, water control and inorganic fertilisers has  effectively supported the reduction of extreme poverty (see Figure 4.7). 55

New agricultural technologies will continue to be important for food security, poverty reduction and efficiency  gains in the use of scarce natural resources. But new directions  in the types of technologies will be required.

Many agricultural systems are inherently inefficient, allowing the  degradation of natural capital and high leakage of nutrients and  pollutants into the air and water courses due to input misuse.  Matching inputs to land productivity (or taking marginal land  into other uses) is one way of improving overall efficiency. This  is the realm of ‘precision agriculture’. By avoiding excess inputs  where they are not needed and removing marginal land from  production, environmental impacts are reduced, and the land  allowed to ‘do more with less’.

In addition to digital technologies associated with precision  agriculture, new breeding and gene-editing technologies offer  considerable potential to increase crop yields and climate  resilience while reducing the use of chemical inputs (see Box  4.5). However, efficiency gains do not always require more capital  inputs. They can also come through intensification of knowledge  in terms of improved agronomy and capacity building.

Importantly, large-scale operations may not necessarily be better  in the pursuit of efficiency gains. Recent evidence highlighted by the World Bank and others suggests that despite many  decades of discussion about the need for sub-Saharan Africa  to consolidate farms to achieve scale efficiencies, “there is no economically optimal agrarian structure”. 56 While farming  operations of many sizes can face disadvantages according to their country’s level of economic development and market  circumstances, technology innovations and efficiency gains  from optimising input use can enhance productivity even for smallholders.


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It is therefore critical to recognise that greater efficiency can  be achieved in both small- and large-scale enterprises. This is  important, for example, in small-scale livestock operations in  sub-Saharan Africa, where livestock often plays an important  role in supporting rural livelihoods. Large and small ruminants, camelids and poultry are kept not simply to produce meat, milk,  or eggs. They are also used for transport, traction (ploughing),  capital accumulation (savings), assets to support resilience via sales during times of economic stress, fertilisers (via manure  and urine), fibre and leather for clothing and equipment, and  cultural rituals. 58 59

Continued deforestation and inefficiencies in large-scale  commercial production in higher- and middle-income countries  must be urgently tackled to reduce significant negative natural  resource and climate impacts. At the same time, greater  investments are needed in resource-poor environments to  support efficiency gains in livestock husbandry via enhanced  animal health, fodder and feed quality, and integration of crop  and animal production systems. In other words, efficiency gains  are both feasible and essential among smallholder livestock  producers to ensure continued livelihoods, access to animal-  sourced foods where needed in the diet, and reduced climate  emissions and natural resource degradation.

4.3.3.2 SI step 2: Substitution

The second step in sustainable intensification goes beyond doing  more with less, and involves substituting less environmentally  harmful practices for more environmentally beneficial practices.  There are many examples of such substitutions in the literature. 60  They include substituting organic fertiliser for inorganic fertiliser  (which improves soil carbon, structure and water retention);  managing beneficial pest-control insects in order to avoid pesticide  usage; using direct drilling rather than tillage; and enhancing yield  and resilience through more diversity in production, including  more complex crop rotations.

4.3.3.3 SI step 3: Redesigning the production system

While efficiency gains and substitution are typically additive and  create marginal changes within current production systems, a  realignment of food systems towards sustainable, healthy diets  would entail the most transformative changes across systems.

Redesign means transforming systems to produce valuable  outputs whilst minimising the environmental impacts. It  harnesses basic agroecological processes including predation,  parasitism, pollination services, natural pest or weed suppression,  herbivory, and nitrogen fixation to enhance the delivery of  beneficial services for the production of crops and livestock. Examples include developing diverse, integrated, and circular  farming systems, incorporating livestock and arable systems with  agroforestry to complement nutrient flows, and enhancing soils  and productivity.

However, redesign is not just an agricultural challenge; it is  also a social challenge. There are important feedback loops across the food system, meaning that what is grown is not only  determined by supply-side policies and producer prices, but  also by expressed demand from the consumer side as well as

commercial retail and product development strategies. Thus,  redesign entails actions across the food system that build  capacity to adapt and innovate, as well as the use of social  and political capital to create large-scale change to improve outcomes for biodiversity, water quantity and quality, air quality,  pest management, and soil health. As part of the redesign  process, enhancing the nutritional quality of human diets is key: more diversified, mixed farming systems will deliver greater  availability of diverse and nutrient-rich foods.

A redesign of production systems will be needed to sustainably  support improved diets, especially in view of the rapid pace of changes being experienced around the world – whether  ecological, economic, social, or political. For example, as the  climate changes and the world faces new pandemic threats,  the challenge of new pests, pathogens, and weeds has been  amplified. New pests and diseases can emerge quickly in a  range of different ways, as the rapid spread of the coronavirus  pandemic has shown. Food systems are already subject to the  development of resistance to pesticides, pest outbreaks due  to pesticide overuse and the ecological disruption of natural  enemies of pests, and an increased geographical range of  pests and diseases (e.g. through trade or through accidental  transport by travellers). Equally, as the climate changes, so will patterns of weather, including its extremes. Redesign is therefore  an important route to building farming systems which are  inherently more resilient to the shocks and uncertainties ahead.

Policymakers and development partners in all countries, but  particularly in low-income food-deficit countries, must pay  careful attention to investments which can protect the steps  taken during the transition. Actions must be carefully calibrated  and sequenced in ways that do no harm to the livelihoods,  incomes and diets of the poor, and investments in preparedness  are essential to mitigate negative impacts of multiple kinds of  shocks on progress already made. 61 There are important lessons  to be learned from the years of structural adjustment policies  when global financial institutions required significant policy  shifts over short periods of time, which often led to unintended  negative consequences, including rising income inequality over  the medium term. 62

4.3.4 Refocus food policy agendas from a focus  on agricultural output to food systems

The principles above – focusing on what is grown, who grows it  and how it is grown – necessarily are concerned with agriculture.  However, agriculture is simply the initial production step in food  systems. Eventually, it is important to look at the entirety of food  systems, which from many perspectives are also highly inefficient.

As discussed throughout this report, conventional agricultural  production systems need to be updated to enable them to  support sustainable, healthy diets. Sustainable intensification  of production will be vitally important, but continuing to grow  what is currently grown will not be sufficient. A sole focus on ‘increasing productivity’ to underpin cheaper and more available  food through conventional agricultural systems can paradoxically  reduce the efficiency of a food system because it incentivises a focus on growing more of a few crops, externalising costs  onto the environment to increase yields, reducing the price of  calories and increasing their availability, undermining nutritional  outcomes, and making wasting calories economically rational. 63

Box 4.5 New technologies to support sustainable food production

Agricultural inputs and practices including improved  seeds, fertilisers, irrigation, crop protection, and  mechanisation have led to unprecedented productivity  growth and contributed enormously to hunger reduction  and food security. 64 However, the yield increases associated  with the Green Revolution and related technological  developments were typically associated with the intensive  use of chemical fertilisers and pesticides, and focused on a few major grain crops – namely wheat, rice, and maize.  Novel agricultural technologies must be used to ensure that  agricultural productivity growth becomes more compatible  with both environmental and nutrition goals, including  advanced water management (hydroponics), gene-editing,  and micro-applications of tailored fertilisers based on  known soil and plant needs (rather than generic field-wide  dressings). Depending on local conditions these may  include technologies and evidence-based practices, such as integrated pest management, agroforestry, agroecology,  and conservation agriculture.

New digital technologies in agriculture are driven by the  relatively lower cost of collecting data on soil conditions, crop  growth, pest infestation, weather and animal health through  sensors, drones, and satellites.65 Coupled with precision  farming, they could help to produce more food on less land,  with fewer inputs, and a smaller environmental footprint. Complex digital technologies are not yet widely used, as  they are typically tied to costly machinery and equipment  and require digital literacy and training. Further R&D will be needed to make digital technologies useful and affordable  for smallholder farmers in LMICs. 66

New breeding technologies include genetically modified  organisms (GMOs) and gene-edited crops or livestock  breeds. While public debate often focuses on possible  environmental and health risks, many years of research  show that new breeding technologies are no more risky  than conventional breeding.67 68 GMOs and gene editing  can also contribute to sustainable agricultural development  more broadly. They can help to increase yields, while  reducing many of the shortcomings of Green Revolution  technologies. For instance, increased nutrient use efficiency  in crop plants and inbuilt resistance to pests and diseases  could help to produce high yields with low amounts of chemical fertilisers and pesticides.

Crops can also be made more resilient to drought, heat, floods, and other  climate shocks. 69 70 So far only a few GMO traits have  been commercialised, mostly by multinational companies  in soybean, maize, and cotton. Many more crop-trait  combinations have not yet been released, largely due to the limited public acceptance of GMOs and high  regulatory costs. 71

Gene editing allows targeted genetic changes in crops or  animals without having to introduce foreign genes. It could  help to overcome many of the public acceptance and  regulatory issues that GMOs have faced in the past. 72 Cheap  and relatively easy to do, it can be applied to a wide variety of  crops. Gene editing has been used already to develop various  desirable traits in vegetables, fruits, pulses, roots and tubers,  and major cereal crops.

Technological innovations for sustainable fruit and  vegetable production are needed because of high  pest and disease pressures in intensive horticultural  systems, which may worsen with global environmental  change. Fruits and vegetables are often sprayed with  significant amounts of chemical pesticides. For more  sustainable production, resistant varieties, improved  agronomy, and possibly also production in indoor  vertical farming units will be required.

Fully harnessing the potential of new agricultural  technologies for sustainable development requires favourable  innovation systems and policies, with well-defined R&D  objectives (focused less on staple commodities and more on food system support that generates nutrient-rich foods),  public-private sector partnerships in agriculture research as well as in promoting adoption of new technologies,  and competitive markets in which inputs, information and  markets are accessible to all, including smallholder farmers  in resource-constrained settings. 73 Favourable innovation  systems also require better science communication to address public concerns and prejudices against new farming  technologies. 74 New technologies will be crucial in making  farming more productive, environmentally sound and  nutrition-focused. But they should not be seen as a substitute  for other changes also required to make food systems more  sustainable, such as reducing post-harvest losses and waste,  as well as dietary shifts.  75

Instead, we need to refocus on the efficiency of food systems.  A productive food system is one that feeds people while  minimising traditional inputs (such as land, labour, and capital).

It also minimises the inputs from natural capital (e.g. those arising from the externalisation of costs onto the environment through  degraded soil, run-off and so on), and it minimises the costs  levied onto society from the poor health resulting from people  eating food that does not provide dietary health.

Anything that  improves the outputs (people fed) whilst reducing the inputs  (including environmental impacts and the social costs of poor  diets) improves food system efficiency. An efficient food system  needs to optimise good nutritional outcomes and yields of  nutrient-rich foods, whilst minimising inputs that include natural resources (and the social costs of poor diets). In other words,  an efficient food system maximises the number of people  nourished healthily and sustainably per unit of input. Focusing  on maximising productivity alone is counter-productive when  food system efficiency is required to ensure sustainability.


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Rather than assuming productive agriculture creates an efficient  food system, specifically identifying food system efficiency  captures many of the elements discussed above – what is grown  and how – but also widens the frame of reference to how the  products of agriculture turn into food, how it is sold, prepared and  consumed. It creates explicit acknowledgement that achieving  the goal of providing every person with the diets they need will  require integrated actions across food systems, at national and  international policy levels, as well as among business entities.

In particular, there is a need to:

  1. produce more of a much wider range of products  to enhance nutrition;
  2. protect food and nutrient losses as they travel through  the food system to the plate and beyond, and
  3. incentivise changes in people’s demand for food so that it  better matches what people need to eat for a healthy life and  what can be sustainably produced (see Figure 4.8) – rather  than producing too little or too much, contributing to waste. 77

Intervening on the ‘demand side’ rather than the traditional  focus on the ‘supply side’ inevitably means policymakers will  have to make a range of unfamiliar trade-offs. 78 They will need  to consider not just how to influence shifts in consumer demand  (across categories of foods – see Chapter 7), but also actions that  are closely linked to supply-side drivers, including:

  1. Avoiding the further expansion of agriculture, particularly into carbon- and biodiversity-rich biomes, as this adds to climate change and undermines the resilience and productivity of  agriculture across the planet;
  1. Avoiding the loss of agricultural land, through unsustainable  land management;
  2. Reducing the use of foodstuffs, e.g. cereal grains, as  biofuels, and instead using non-land-intensive sources  of renewable energy;
  3. Avoiding a large increase in cereals used for livestock feed  (already in 2016, roughly 36% of cereals produced globally was  fed to animals). 79 In the future, there will be a need to both  moderate demand, and increase use of alternative protein  sources, such as meat-substitutes, algae, insect meal, legume  crop by-products, etc.;
  4. Drastically improving livestock management efficiency,  thereby improving input-to-output ratios; 80 81
  5. Supporting increased production of fruits, vegetables,  and pulses through a range of incentives such as  developing sustainable cold chains and processing,  changing subsidies, and developing more market  incentives (including through education and other  mechanisms such as public procurement);
  6. Recognising that an abundance of calories, produced  unsustainably, and sold cheaply, creates an ever-growing  environmental and social burden that is literally unsustainable

The refocus on food systems rather than agriculture is a widening  of the framing beyond the traditional view of agricultural  economic growth. There is, however, much that can be done  with a range of policies which can stimulate demand for  healthier diets, and associated new jobs in delivering them(see Box 4.6). The next section focuses on three key policy shifts.

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Box 4.6: How feasible is it to invest beyond farm and trade policies to achieve healthy diets?

In the past, agricultural growth has been strongly  associated with significant reductions in rural poverty and undernutrition. 82 83 It was estimated that in 2011, “two-thirds  of the 740 million people living in extreme poverty (less than US$1.90 a day purchasing power parity) were agricultural  workers and their dependents”. 84 In the coming decade,  policymakers will have to focus even more on rural non-  farm employment by investing in technological innovation,  infrastructure, education, and credit access, none of which is new, but essential nonetheless. It is estimated that around 730

million new jobs must be created in sub-Saharan Africa by 2050  to keep up with demand linked to rapid population growth. 85

This is possible for LMICs where “investments to increase  agricultural productivity can offset the adverse impacts of  climate change and help reduce the share of people at risk of hunger in 2030”. 86 But agricultural productivity growth has  been low over many decades in the parts of the world which  have the greatest challenges in raising the efficiency of food  system functions (see Figure 4.9).


87 88

To turn things around, a possible strategy would be to:

  1. Significantly increase funding for public agricultural  research and development (R&D), for both essential  staples and for a greater diversity of nutrient-rich foods,  but also for research that goes beyond commodity  traits to include policy and programming impacts on  food system functioning, cost-effectiveness analyses,  enhanced climate-smart and resilient systems, and  approaches to scaling up best practices where win-win  opportunities have been empirically documented as  success stories;
  1. In partnership with commercial interests, facilitate larger  investment in public goods that reduce inputs, and the  costs of food transportation and marketing;
  2. Expand energy and water access, and productivity-  enhancing technologies, ensuring their use is to reflect  environmental externalities;
  3. Facilitate income growth that supports demand-creation  via enhanced rural employment within and beyond  agriculture (linked to higher value food commodity supply  chains), labour productivity gains, and efficient social  protection programmes;

Box 4.6: Continued

  1. Promote wide use of promising technologies, including  smartphones for information push, digital platforms for  accessing new markets, 3D printing, agricultural drones,  ‘intelligent’ materials, vertical agriculture, grey water  recycling and more. 89

This strategy represents an important challenge for parts  of sub-Saharan Africa which have struggled to fund public

agricultural investments (see Figure 4.10). 90 But it also  presents an opportunity for rapid change, using government  investments and a major refocusing of support from  development agency partners. Enhancing incomes derived  from gains in agriculture and downstream across the food  system represents massive potential for pro-poor poverty  reduction, particularly in Africa and South Asia in the next  two decades.


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4.4 Three key policy shifts are needed

A food system transition requires many sorts of policy interventions. There is no silver bullet. 92 93 For example, the IPCC’s Special Report on Food, Land and Climate, lists 24 policy areas (Table 5.6, p509) from both the demand and supply side that will help shift the system towards increasing sustainability.

This chapter focuses on the supply or availability of food. Three important routes for decision makers to enable change are: using public support to agriculture and food (subsidies) in new ways; refocusing agricultural research and development funding; and refocusing the incentives applied to food production towards systems that deliver better outcomes for people and the planet. Each of these is discussed in detail below.

4.4.1 Rebalance supply-side subsidies to better  support nutrient-rich foods as well as grains

The first area for a policy re-focus is public support for  commodity production. Currently, more than US$620 billion is  spent globally each year on agricultural subsidies (commodity  support, services, etc.). 94 These subsidies include investment in  public goods (such as research and advisory services, transport  infrastructure, and food safety regulations), as well as subsidies  to agricultural producers. Figure 4.11 provides a breakdown of where public agricultural subsidies were targeted across  51 countries in 2015-17, while Box 4.7 offers a World Bank  classification of subsidies.

In the past decade, OECD governments were on average  allocating roughly 26% of their subsidy support to cereal grains,  and 14% to fruits and vegetables. Interestingly, the share of  sectoral support to fruits and vegetables was much higher in  non-OECD countries at 37%, although the other 63% of subsidy  support went to cereals, livestock, oilseeds, sugar, production of  fibre (wool) and more. 95

Also, in some countries, such as Egypt,  there have been large and often untargeted food subsidies. 96

 


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There have been substantial increases in producer subsidies in recent years (see Figure 4.12). According to the World Bank,  these subsidies increased from US$255 billion in 2000–02 to  US$484 billion in 2015–17 in 10 non-OECD (a mix of developing  and emerging) economies, largely driven by a 16-fold increase in producer support in China. 98

The remaining nine non-OECD  countries included in the analysis also increased their support,  from US$11 billion to US$24 billion. Unfortunately, producer  subsidies often worsen rather than improve GHG emissions, and  lead to overuse of fertilisers, and water pollution. In addition,  subsidies are often captured by wealthier farmers, as for example  in Pakistan and India. 99

Box 4.7: Forms of agricultural production subsidies

According to the World Bank, 100 subsidies for agricultural producers fall into three broad categories:

  1. Price supports to keep domestic prices for specific outputs higher than equivalent world market  prices. These supports are given directly through public spending for the public procurement of  farm outputs, or indirectly through import restrictions and other market barriers that help push  producer prices higher. In the case of market barriers, no public expenditures are involved.
  1. Transfers to producers linked to the type of inputs used or agricultural outputs produced. These subsidies include lowered interest rates on agricultural credit or lowered prices of specific inputs (either variable or fixed capital) such as fertilisers, pesticides, seeds, water, and electricity. Producers can also receive direct payments tied to the production of specific outputs.
  2. Payments to farmers not tied to the outputs produced or inputs used. This is often referred to as ‘decoupled’ payments.


101

There is substantial potential to redirect farm support toward climate change mitigation. Redirect funding to focus on mitigation, including measures that increase efficiency
in the use of natural resources

Searchinger et al. (2020) World Bank. 102

The various forms of subsidy mentioned keep staple grain supplies  and relative prices out of balance with the food patterns needed  to support sustainable, healthy diets. Also, while some subsidies are  aimed at farm-based actions that support ecological requirements  (such as land set-aside, longer fallow, tree-planting), practically  none are aimed at supporting healthy diets. For example, 25% of  the European Union’s €60 billion annual agricultural subsidies are

dedicated to promoting public goods (primarily in terms of multi-  use landscapes), but there are none which focus on how health or  nutrition outcomes can be improved. 103

This situation suggests that the realignment of subsidies presents  a major opportunity for policymakers. Even a relatively modest  repurposing of subsidies (say, 25%) towards promoting the  production of nutrient-rich perishable foods and the reduction  of food loss and nutrient waste would amount to US$150 billion in capital to support the generating of more nutrient-rich  foods. New scenario modelling commissioned by this project  has demonstrated striking benefits which could result from  realigning subsidies – in terms of GDP, health, and environmental  impacts – although this work has also highlighted trade-offs  that would need to be managed (see Box 4.8). It was recently  argued by the World Bank that “because of the importance of  this redirection of support for whether countries achieve climate  goals, and because of the need for international cooperation to  push needed innovations, global action is required”. 104

Box 4.8: Scenarios for rebalancing subsidies: preliminary insights from modelling scenarios

An analysis commissioned for this report modelled a range  of scenarios pertinent to the goal of repurposing domestic  agriculture sector production subsidies (US$211 billion in 2011) towards supporting more sustainable, healthy diets. 105 The scenarios include:

  1. removal of all agriculture sector subsidies by 2030,
  2. 50% redirection of those subsidies (at current levels)  towards fruits and vegetables, and
  3. 100% redirection of subsidies to fruits and vegetables.  Outcomes of interest were economic impacts, human health,  and environmental impacts.

Implications for food production patterns: A 100%  removal of subsidies led to lowered global output. The fall  was particularly large for highly subsidised commodities in  OECD countries, such as grains and oilseeds, but also for  fruits and vegetables in OECD and non-OECD countries alike  (see Figure 4.13). Parts of the world with no subsidies to  remove increased domestic production to compensate, but  their output could not make up for overall losses, resulting in  a net decline in supply. This suggests that subsidies continue  to play an important role in stimulating food production.

Macroeconomic impacts: Complete removal of agricultural  subsidies increased economic output, measured as change in gross domestic product (GDP), by US$1.5 trillion, which  suggests that not all subsidy investments have high economic  returns. A 50% reallocation of subsidies towards fruits and  vegetables would have a positive global GDP return of US$3.3 billion, but a 100% redirection to fruits and vegetables  would result in a global net loss of US$8.7 billion, in large part  because the other profitable commodities would lose out.
This underscores that careful analysis is needed to determine  net outcomes when considering how subsidies are allocated.

 


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Box 4.8 continued

According to the 2018 Global Nutrition Report: “The burden of NCDs is significant: 422 million people have diabetes and 1.1 billion people suffer from high blood pressure. NCDs were responsible for 41 million of the world’s 57 million total deaths

(71%) in 2016, of which diet was one of the four leading risk factors.”  Importantly, the diet-related disease burden is highest in low- and middle-income countries (see Figure 2.3), which together account for 85% of all premature deaths from NCDs.


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Food consumption patterns: Because of the net production  loss associated with 100% subsidy removal, intake of all  nutrient-rich foods would also fall in that scenario, with  predictable health outcomes. Figure 4.14 shows the relative  decline in vegetable consumption linked to 100% removal,  the greatest impacts being seen in Europe and China, but felt

across the world. By contrast, a 50% or 100% reallocation of  subsidies to nutrient-rich foods would see their consumption  rise, highest in OECD and middle-income non-OECD  countries, and much less in low-income nations which do  not currently subsidise domestic production. Figure 4.15  shows that if nations were subsidising vegetable production.

Box 4.8 continued

at rates relative to the size of their population (the POP  scenario), then low- and middle-income countries would  see their intake of vegetables rise.

Human health: Removal of all agricultural subsidies was  associated in the models with an increase of 140,000 diet-  related deaths, representing an increase in mortality of 0.3%  on average. Most of this was due to reduced supply and intake  of vegetables and fruits, nuts and seeds and pulses. Thus,  simply taking away subsidies on the grounds of economic gain  would not help from a nutrition or health perspective. But  repurposing half or all subsidies led to almost 600,000 fewer  diet-related deaths per year. Premature mortality was reduced  by up to 2.1% in the OECD, 1.6% in non-OECD countries  with subsidies, and by 0.2% in countries without subsidies.

Environmental impacts: The picture here is mixed  depending on whether GHG emissions, or demand on  freshwater, nitrogen and phosphorous are considered.  (see Figure 4.16). Removing all subsidies is associated in  the models with moderate falls in GHGs and in some environmental resource demand (particularly with reduced  need for nitrogen and phosphorous fertilizers) in OECD and  non-OECD countries (of 1.5-2.0% and 0.1-0.8%, respectively),  but with increases in regions without agricultural current  subsidies (of 0.4-0.6%). Repurposing subsidies leads to similar  reductions in GHG emissions when 50% or 100% is allocated  to nutrition-sensitive crops. But repurposing of subsidies  leads to much higher water use, mainly in non-OECD and  non-subsidy countries, as well as in higher demand for other  environmental resources.

More refined modelling of regional and global trade  dynamics and efficiency gains (in the use of environmental

resources and GHG emission reductions) holds considerable  potential to shed light on the positives and negatives  associated with sets of policy choices both locally and  globally. Importantly, this modelling highlights the  importance of considering a) net effects across nations,  food commodities, and various outcomes, but also b) how  domestic food policy changes may have unintended effects  globally or for other countries.

Scenarios considered:

  1. Removal of subsidy payments (RMV): All subsidy  payments are removed
  2. Repurpose subsidy payments (S25…S100):  Different shares of the overall subsidy budget are  redirected to low-emitting and nutrition-sensitive  food commodities (vegetables, fruits, pulses, and  nuts) in a budget neutral manner.
  3. Repurpose subsidy payments according to WTO  provisions (WTO): Subsidies are repurposed towards  nutrition-sensitive and low-emitting food commodities up  to the limit allowed by the WTO’s de-minimis provisions.
  4. Repurpose subsidy payments and redirect them  globally (GDP, POP): Scenarios 2-3 assume constant  overall subsidy budgets in countries that have a subsidy  scheme. However, not all countries use subsidies. Scenario  4 models a more equal distribution of subsides globally.  To do this, subsidy budgets were maintained at 2011  levels, but allocated across all countries according to  either their GDP or population share to support domestic  production of nutrition-sensitive and low-emitting foods.


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The world probably devotes only around 1.4–1.7% of agricultural GDP to agricultural R&D

Searchinger et al. (2018) 110

In summary, to ensure a much greater sustainable supply of  nutrient-rich foods, national and global subsidy flows need  to be rebalanced in the following ways:

  • Broaden the policy priorities and investments from the current primary focus on staple grains, livestock, and cash crop commodities (such as cotton and sugar);
  • Focus on a greater diversity of nutrient-rich foods, which will be in much higher demand in coming decades;
  • Focus on sustainable production, notably through efficiency gains across all forms and scales of production, reduced exploitation of natural resources (land and water in  particular), reduced food loss in and around the farm,

4.4.2 Rebalance agricultural research and  development to deliver better outcomes (R&D)

Beyond supply-side subsidies, the second area for a policy  refocus is agricultural research and development. Agricultural  R&D (public and private) has a key role to play in developing  innovations although currently that potential is not being  fully exploited. In LMICs, as the World Bank has pointed out,  Africa’s R&D systems are “underinvested, highly fragmented,  and subject to volatile funding from governments and  especially donors”. 111 But the situation in higher-income  settings is also less than optimal. Research from the World  Bank shows that in OECD countries, as well as in several big agricultural producing middle-income countries (such as China,  Brazil, and the Russian Federation), only 6% of public sector  support to the agricultural sector is dedicated to research,  including education and technical assistance. 112 While it may  not be possible to increase funding for research, particularly in resource-constrained countries, there is considerable scope  to increase both the quantity (funding levels) and quality  (focus relative to need) of food-related research.

For example, as mentioned above, most public sector  agriculture research investments today focus primarily on  improving productivity in a small handful of staple crops.  A narrow focus by donor agencies and national agriculture  sectors on productivity improvement fails to tackle wider  strategic issues of what should be grown, by whom and in what ways. Furthermore, it tends to lead to relatively  incremental changes (gains in agricultural efficiency) rather  than fundamental transformation. 113 More focus is needed  in agricultural research (including reprioritisation of donor  funding for relevant R&D) to deliver healthy diets grown  sustainably. This will be particularly important in terms of

support for domestic R&D in LMICs. For such countries, the  imbalance of public agriculture research between cereals on the  one hand, and fruits and vegetables on the other, is particularly  stark, whereas it is less so in high-income settings. 114

Staple grains have been, are, and will be key elements of people’s  diets around the world, and will remain important for global  food security. Research on staples remains important, particularly  through the lens of increasing the sustainability of their  production and yield stability in the face of climate change.

But all donor agencies and national research programmes  relating to food systems must pursue a shift from focusing  on staple commodities toward food system-wide challenges.

Three areas where agricultural R&D could be refocused  are discussed below: sustainability; increasing diversity and  production of nutrition-providing foods; and ensuring the  gap between innovation and uptake at scale is bridged.

4.4.2.1 R&D to drive food system sustainability

To fully deliver on sustainable intensification (Section 4.3)  requires going beyond the incremental gains arising from efficiency improvements (doing ‘more with less’). Substitution of one practice with one that is less damaging can be insufficient  to transform the farming system to work with nature, instead of  against it. 115This is because reducing the rate at which intensive  agriculture may harm the environment, through increasing  efficiency, does not solve the problem.

Sustainable productivity gains imply that more output is  produced with a lower use of agrochemicals and scarce natural  resources. This needs to be reflected in the types of technologies  fostered. Natural resource management (NRM) – including  longer crop rotations, conservation agriculture, agroforestry  systems, integrated pest management, agroecological  intensification, and other agronomic innovations – need to play an important role. 116

A key research need is for greater focus on diverse farming  systems, rather than individual crops: circular agriculture to  prevent waste and nutrient leakage, agroecological systems,  complex rotations, mixed farming and so on. Compared to  ‘conventional’ agriculture, the amount of money invested in  other farming systems is very small, and often focused on a  small number of approaches (e.g. organic). 117 Too little money  has been invested in finding ways to maximise the outputs in diversified, small-scale, and agroecological systems which  can produce a wider range of nutrient-rich foods in a more  sustainable way (including supporting livelihoods) than broad-  scale agricultural monocropping.

From a broader sustainability perspective, a greater focus  is required on landscape-level outcomes for the delivery of ecosystem services (clean air, water, biodiversity, fuel, fibre and  food; as well as preservation of culturally important landscapes  and their heterogeneity). 118 119 Current applications of research  funding will not deliver the knowledge and products required to  support sustainable, healthy diets in coming years. The funding  has to be better aligned with these new planet-wide goals.

 

Box 4.9: Seed systems research: a target  for reform in Africa

While R&D by commercial seed companies has expanded  in many parts of Eastern and Southern Africa and in  Nigeria, the focus is quite narrowly on hybrid maize.This needs to change significantly if non-staple food  production and marketing is to accelerate. There is  a good case for many African countries to update  outdated seed safety laws to encourage investment  in areas beyond staples.

Seed regulators have a key role to play. Effective  institutional management of the quality of seeds, young  fish stock and breeding livestock is a crucial component  of high-performance agricultural systems that generate  high-quality food products. KEPHIS in Kenya is a good  example of a strong regulatory body supporting quality  in the seed system. Many others would benefit from  being substantially strengthened.

4.4.2.2 Promoting the production of micronutrient-  rich foods

Any move towards a healthy diet for all requires significantly  more policy attention and investment in the supply of a diversity  of safe foods that provide important quantities of vitamins and  minerals. This requires support for enhancing outputs of nutrient-  dense fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds and pulses, including orphan crops 120, knowledge and extension, market investments (to reduce  food loss), and education. These can all combine to increase the

supply and profitability of the production of these foods, while  also raising labour demand.

Research that boosts the micronutrient content of staple grains,  beans or tubers (biofortification) can also be a cost-effective  strategy for helping deliver nutrients to nutritionally vulnerable  individuals. 121 122Once developed and if widely disseminated, some  biofortified crops can be multiplied by rural households without  additional costs. Hence, biofortification can be a viable medium-  term strategy to complement dietary diversification programmes  and other types of micronutrient interventions. 123 However, this  represents a substitution step rather than a redesign.

Investing more into research for, and production of, a wide range  of micronutrient-rich foods (e.g. fruits, vegetables, pulses, fish  etc.) will help to incentivise production of relevant crops and  appropriate animal-sourced foods, and also help to increase their  affordability. It may also have implications for seed regulatory  agencies that have tended to focus on cereals (see Box 4.9).

It may also involve confronting important constituencies, such  as traditional grain marketing boards and associations, which  have in the past ensured that most public investment was  channelled towards cereals. Indeed, powerful actors across the  food system often pull in different directions, motivated by  factors unrelated to health or food system sustainability. These  power relations between different actors in the food system  matter hugely, and negotiated policy solutions will need to  identify and harness common benefits and common ground.


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Box 4.10: Ethiopia: a particular success story

Government support for agriculture in Ethiopia illustrates the benefits that can flow from well-judged policies. A concerted  policy of agriculture-led growth has been highly successful in raising not just yields but also the number of jobs in agriculture  and its output (in terms of agricultural GDP per worker). 125

One example of promoting research diversification is the Rice  Tariffication Bill adopted by the Philippines in 2019. This replaced  long-standing quantity-based import quotas for rice, with  flexibility for any importer to secure rice if they meet minimum  quality standards. 126 Some of the government revenue from this  scheme is intended to support cropping diversification among  locally affected rice farmers, contributing to more diverse food  systems and diets.

4.4.2.3 Bridging gaps between technology innovation  and farmer adoption

Simple-to-use technologies that increase farmers’ yields and  profits are often adopted rapidly. More complex approaches that  may have longer-term benefits but do not necessarily increase  farm profits immediately are often adopted much less rapidly  without specific extension and training efforts. 127

Examples are natural resource management practices (including  approaches such as conservation agriculture) tailored to location,  which can improve the nutrient content of crops, but not  necessarily raise crop or livestock yields in the short term,  leading to low rates of uptake. Recent studies have shown that  well-designed extension approaches that combine agricultural  training with nutrition and health training, and market linkage  support, can significantly increase the adoption of complex  technologies by smallholder farmers. 129 130 More enhanced  approaches to farm extension are needed, both face-to-face  and using digital or cellular platforms. Other approaches include  using wider ecosystem service provision to create a market that pays farmers to take up beneficial approaches: for example,  hydro-companies paying farmers for better soil management to prevent sediment off-flow that can silt-up power stations. 131

4.4.3 Rebalancing the incentives supporting  food production

The third area where policymakers can create a new focus that  will aid the transition beyond R&D and subsidies, is to develop  value-added production systems for high quality foods to realise considerable employment opportunities, as well as a cascade  of other benefits.

Rebalancing in this case means increasing the  focus of food production towards generating universal access  to sustainable, healthy diets as the top priority, rather than just  on traditional goals of producing ever-higher volumes of cheap  food, or earning foreign exchange from commodity exports.

Across the world, but especially in high-income countries,  the food system is the largest employment sector – as there  are many employment possibilities in production, processing,  manufacturing and retailing of foods, as well as services,  including hospitality (see Figure 4.17). 132 The challenge for  high-income economies is to align these high-employment  value chains to deliver more nutrient-rich food products,  produced through sustainable farming methods. In lower-  income countries, the development of food and agricultural  systems has the potential to contribute very substantially to employment opportunities, and the economic prosperity  of individuals and countries – far beyond the dual objectives  of ensuring healthy and sustainable diets.

For example, in West Africa, the food system accounts for  66% of total employment (82 million jobs as of 2017). Roughly  78% (64 million jobs) are in agriculture itself, 15% (12 million)  in food marketing and 5% (four million) in food processing. 133  This constitutes an important opportunity for countries in  Africa with rapidly growing populations. Estimates from the International Labour Organisation project that there will be 283 million young people aged 15-24 years in sub-Saharan Africa by 2030, an increase of approximately 100 million from 2015. 134  The overall working age population (15-64 years old) in Africa  is expected to increase by 805 million between 2020 and 2050,  representing 76% of the expected global increase. 135

The potential benefits are massive. By 2100, it is estimated that sub-Saharan Africa and Asia will be home to roughly nine billion  people (of the world’s then total of 11 billion). 136 The World  Bank has argued that Africa earns roughly 25% of its annual  economic growth from agriculture but “if matched with more electricity and irrigation, smart business and trade policies and a  dynamic private agribusiness sector that works side by side with  government to link farmers with consumers in an increasingly  urbanised Africa, […] agriculture and agribusiness together could  command a US$ 1 trillion presence in Africa’s regional economy  by 2030” 137 (up from US$313 billion in 2010).

Since almost all new jobs in Africa today are in agriculture and microenterprises, improving the business environment in these sectors is a high priority.

World Economic Forum (2017) 138

The benefits to employment incomes of successful agricultural  policies will also cause a cascade of wider benefits (see an  example in Box 4.10). Higher GDP growth will open a range of opportunities in diverse areas of public spending including  healthcare, education, and infrastructure development.

The result would be to fuel virtuous cycles of growth and  development. There are benefits to incomes and livelihoods  through engagement in agriculture and food systems more  generally. 139 Moreover, there is strong evidence that the income  effects of appropriate investments in agricultural growth in the decades ahead will continue to be “an important driver of  poverty reduction in South Asia and especially in sub-Saharan  Africa” 140 (see Box 4.10).

Whilst to date, there are examples (as in Box 4.10) of successfully  promoting poverty reduction through improved productivity,  the need is increasingly to target the productivity growth of a range of nutrient-rich foods, produced sustainably. To secure  the greatest growth in incomes and salaried employment  across food systems, policymakers will need to take a broad  view of where to act. It will be important to look for new  opportunities right across food systems, including those  which help incentivise demand growth for nutrient-rich foods  rather than calorie-dense, ultra-processed foods. Tomorrow’s  workforce also needs to be prepared so that it is well-placed  to capitalise on new and emerging opportunities, not just in  agriculture, but also in the various links along value chains all the way to retail and food services. Today, many food producers,  particularly in LMICs, are also food insecure, burdened by high  levels of malnutrition, and at high risk of climate-related shocks.  This underlines the importance during a transition to protect  and enhance the ability of these smallholders to contribute  effectively to food system change. It requires an extension of  appropriately designed and appropriately funded, effective  social protection interventions (including the persistence and  strengthening of those only brought in as a response to the  coronavirus pandemic). 141

The same is true at the level of small- and medium-sized  enterprises (SMEs) working in the food system, which have been  severely affected during the coronavirus pandemic. 142All have a  part to play, from the smallest producers to larger-scale operations  which may generate high-value commodities and support for export earnings. In the latter case, for example, it will be

particularly important to facilitate access to productive credit and  direct investment, and enhance market access (see Chapter 5).

For public and private sectors to work together to optimise  employment opportunities across a food system which is  transitioning will require specific employment policies. These will  need to target potential constraints through the development of  many kinds of skills, knowledge, and finance, particularly among  youth and women. Most countries lack an integrated strategy  which supports job opportunities and income growth across  food systems, which means that they are less able to support  SMEs and larger public-funded institutions with appropriate  fiscal policies, entrepreneurship services, training and nurturing  health and safety regulation.

Improving working conditions across food system employers,  matters in the context of widespread child labour, gender and  age inequalities, poor enforcement of labour laws and a lack of  support for workers’ organisations. 143 In other words, addressing  both the quantity and quality of jobs in the food systems will  deliver valuable gains for governments and private industry,  contributing hugely to economic growth, including a reduction  in poverty and income inequality, with significant spill-overs for  the rest of the economy and society.

In sum, food systems must be transitioned in ways so that  what is grown, and how it is grown, are focused on supporting  sustainable, healthy diets while enhancing the productivity and  economic efficiency of all food system operations. Also, the  redesign needs to be driven by realignment of subsidy supports  for agriculture, and R&D investments refocused on food system  challenge. These need to include how to overcome constraints to the provisioning of markets year-round with a diversity of safe  nutrient-rich foods, and modernisation of value chains in ways  that better link demand to supply via innovations of all kinds.

photo411

Box 4.11: Pathways to multiple ‘wins’: Great Green Wall for the Sahara and Sahel 144

This visionary project of the African Union is a continental-  wide initiative to halt desertification and land degradation  in a belt of land averaging 15km in width, stretching from  Senegal in the West right across to Eritrea, Ethiopia and  Djibouti in the East (see Figure 4.18).

It is a US$1.1 billion program funded in part by the World Bank and the Global Environment Facility, involving  numerous African countries and a host of international  partners including the FAO, the UN, and the European  Union.

Once complete, the Great Green Wall will be the  largest living structure on the planet, three times the size of the Great Barrier Reef. To do this, improved water  management is needed through water harvesting, micro- irrigation and the reduction of runoff. 145

The project aims to halt further desertification, and secure  food reserves – thereby addressing food insecurity. In 2017  in the Horn of Africa alone, 20 million people were declared  on the verge of starvation following severe drought and food crisis. However, its benefits go much further.

It aims to  improve the health and livelihoods of those communities  in its vicinity, create employment, and work against the  threats of conflict and outmigration.

It has been seen as a ‘game changer’ for the region. 146 Overall, it contributes to  an estimated 15 of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals.

Already approximately 15% completed, its results to  date include:

  • Nigeria: five million hectares of degraded land restored;
  • Niger: five million hectares of degraded land restored, yielding an extra 500,000 tonnes of grain a year – enough for 2.5 million people;
  • Ethiopia: 15 million hectares of degraded land restored.

Looking to 2030, the Wall aims to restore 100 million hectares  of degraded land, and sequester 250 million tonnes of carbon.  Importantly, it will also create 10 million much needed jobs in  rural areas – the Sahel’s population of 100 million is projected  to rise to 340 million by 2050.


147

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