Investing in the agricultural sector can address not only hunger and malnutrition but also other challenges including poverty, water, and energy use, climate change, and unsustainable production and consumption. Together, we must mobilize scientific, technological, and social movements to address these challenges together.
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Sustainable Development Goal #2 calls specifically to: end hunger, achieve food security, improved nutrition, and promote sustainable agriculture.
To fulfill this goal, the United Nations has identified a series of specific targets as well as the means of implementation for reaching them. Explore Goal 2 in-depth here:
By 2030 end hunger and ensure access by all people, in particular, the poor and people in vulnerable situations including infants, to safe, nutritious, and sufficient food all year round modern agriculture has achieved much over the past century. While the global population has grown from less than three billion people in 1950 to more than seven billion people today, global levels of hunger have not followed this trend, remaining largely constant over the same period.
Tackling hunger is not only about boosting food production; its also about increasing incomes and strengthening markets so that people can access food even if a crisis prevents them from growing enough themselves. An end to hunger is possible by 2030. The Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations has already predicted that hunger levels are likely to decrease by hundreds of millions by 2030 but notes that sub-Saharan Africa as a region and rural women as a demographic group may still be most at risk. More recently, Bill and Melinda Gates made their big bet that Africa will be able to feed itself by 2030 by accelerating the rate of innovation and access to agricultural extension services for smallholder farmers.
By 2030 end all forms of malnutrition, including achieving by 2025 the internationally agreed targets on stunting and wasting in children under five years of age, and address the nutritional needs of adolescent girls, pregnant and lactating women, and older persons food security is not only about addressing hunger but also about ensuring proper nutrition. Achieving nutrition security is about receiving the right quantity, quality, and diversity of food in one’s diet.
Agriculture can play an important role to address malnutrition in three ways:
- Biofortified foods: such as vitamin-A enriched rice or sweet potatoes, are bred to have higher amounts of micronutrients and can help provide essential vitamins and minerals.
- Micronutrient-enriched fertilizers: improve soil fertility, helping to support higher yields of more nutritious food and can combat micronutrient deficiencies in humans.
- Improved agronomic practices: can also help, for instance, crop rotation and conservation tillage by encouraging food diversity and preventing nutrient depletion of soils.
Productivity and Incomes
by 2030 double the agricultural productivity and the incomes of small-scale food producers, particularly women, indigenous peoples, family farmers, pastoralists, and fishers, including through secure and equal access to land, other productive resources and inputs, knowledge, financial services, markets, and opportunities for value addition and non-farm employment Agricultural development is inextricably linked to economic growth that benefits the poor. In fact, the World Bank has estimated that agriculture development is about two to four times more effective in raising incomes among the poorest than growth from any sector (and up to 11 times more effective in sub-Saharan Africa).
More than three-quarters (77%) of the increased food we will need to produce by 2030 need to come from increased productivity. Increased productivity, when coupled with better access to markets, can help address hunger directly at the farm level or provide sufficient additional income to buy food at the market. For instance, the agricultural sector accounts for one-third of gross-domestic-product (GDP) and three-quarters of employment in Sub-Saharan Africa. Boosting rural incomes and ensuring ample employment means looking at economic opportunities across the entire rural value chain, from farmers and input suppliers to value-added processing and services, such as transporting and marketing of food.
Sustainability and Resilience
by 2030 ensure sustainable food production systems and implement resilient agricultural practices that increase productivity and production, that help maintain ecosystems, that strengthen capacity for adaptation to climate change, extreme weather, drought, flooding, and other disasters, and that progressively improve land and soil quality agriculture is more vulnerable to climate change than any other sector. A warming climate could reduce crop yields by more than 25%, according to the World Bank.
Making agriculture more resilient in the face of climate change will be important, and thankfully there are many ways how to make this happen from investing in irrigation and soil health to promoting disaster preparedness. Agriculture and land-use change are also responsible for between 19 – 29% of global greenhouse gas emissions. But the sector can also help to substantially mitigate against future greenhouse emissions, especially by increasing the productivity of land already under cultivation and thus reducing deforestation. A higher price of carbon can help incentivize agriculture’s mitigation potential.
More productive farms also tend to use less water per unit of crop produced. Innovations such as drip irrigation can also improve agricultural water use efficiency while still supporting higher productivity. Reducing food waste is another area that can improve the sustainability and resilience of the agricultural sector. A recent report by WRAP estimated that one-third of all food produced is never consumed, at a total cost as much as $400 billion a year, and 3.3 billion metric tons of greenhouse gases being released annually, about 7% of the total emissions. Reducing food waste by 50% globally could save $300 billion a year by 2030 and could feed as many as a billion people. By 2030, this consumer food waste could cost as much as $600 billion a year, unless we act now to address this problem.
by 2020 maintain the genetic diversity of seeds, cultivated plants, farmed and domesticated animals and their related wild species, including through soundly managed and diversified seed and plant banks at national, regional, and international levels, and ensure access to and fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising from the utilization of genetic resources and associated traditional knowledge as internationally agreed land spare or land share, that is often the question posed when discussing agriculture and biodiversity. Increasing agricultural productivity means that we can produce the food our global population needs while keeping as much another land as a natural habitat where biodiversity can flourish (instead of using land more extensively for agriculture and biodiversity simultaneously).
When a set amount of food is needed, research indicates that land sparing strategies are usually more optimal for balancing food production with ecosystem preservation. And smallholder farmers play a key role, as they hold as much as 75% of the global seed diversity in staple food crops, with the rest being held in gene banks. Urgent action will be needed, since as much as 10% of the biodiversity seen in 2000 may be lost by the year 2030, resulting from land lost to infrastructure as well as from agriculture and climate impacts.
increase investment, including through enhanced international cooperation, in rural infrastructure, agricultural research and extension services, technology development, and plant and livestock gene banks to enhance agricultural productive capacity in developing countries, in particular in the least developed countries total of $239 billion invested over the next 15 years, in road and railway connections to connect farms to markets and in electricity supplies to improve cold storage, would yield benefits of $3.1 trillion by safeguarding food.
Similarly, investments in agricultural research can help boost yields and nutrition as well as using resources like water more efficiently. It is estimated that an extra $88 billion spent on agricultural research over the next 15 years (a 160% rise from today) would give benefits of $2.96 trillion. Investments in crop yield improvement have also positively impacted agriculture’s greenhouse gas emissions. In fact, every dollar invested in agriculture has resulted in a reduction of 68kg of emissions. Over time, these productivity gains have saved an estimated 161 gigatonnes of carbon emissions, or roughly one-third of total human emissions to date.
Because farming is a knowledge-intensive occupation, this research must also be brought to farmers through improved access to extension services, especially for women farmers.
Overall, the United Nations has calculated that net investments of $83 billion a year must be made in agriculture in developing countries in order to meet expected food demand by the year 2050.
correct and prevent trade restrictions and distortions in world agricultural markets including by the parallel elimination of all forms of agricultural export subsidies and all export measures with equivalent effect, in accordance with the mandate of the Doha Development RoundMore open and fair agricultural trade systems, can make everyone better off. Trade allows food to flow from areas of surplus production to areas of deficit production.
In addition to increasing the flow of food products, effective trading systems allow the most appropriate technologies, inputs, machinery, finance, and know-how to be used. Trade can help drive pro-poor economic growth much more sustainably by encouraging investment and allocating resources more efficiently than foreign aid. Higher farm incomes benefit farmers themselves, but also spur additional growth in the non-farm rural sector as well as lowering food prices for the urban poor. For smallholders in Africa, this growing urban market is expected to offer 15 times the market potential than commodity crops or high-value export crops.
adopt measures to ensure the proper functioning of food commodity markets and their derivatives, and facilitate timely access to market information, including on food reserves, in order to help limit extreme food price volatility, consisting of sudden jumps or drops in prices, is often more problematic than the actual food price level itself. When price fluctuations occur quickly, farmers and other suppliers cannot plan accordingly or react quickly enough to meet demand easily. For instance, in 2007-8 the global price of several crops doubled or even tripled in less than a year.
In these instances, governments may respond by banning or restricting food exports or amassing huge food reserves out of fear shortages, whether real or perceived and to protect national security interests. These measures can drive prices up even higher, especially when information on global food reserves is not readily available. Effective commodity markets can help limit price volatility and work to get farmers the best price for the crops they grow. For example, the Ethiopian Commodity Exchange (ECX) was set up in 2008 to create such a marketplace.
They help to assure the quality and quantity of goods for buyers while also facilitating payments and delivery on behalf of sellers through a network of warehouses and regional offices. In 2011, the Agriculture Ministers of the G20 also established the Agricultural Market Information System (AMIS) to encourage more transparency in global food markets and coordinated response to future uncertainty. It monitors market trends, collects key data, and engages in training workshops and policy dialogue in order to reduce the likelihood of extreme price fluctuations in the future.