According to the 2019 Global Agricultural Productivity Report, global productivity is currently only growing at an average annual rate of 1.63%. It will need to increase to at least 1.73% to sustainably produce food, feed, fibre, and bioenergy for the expected 10 billion people by 2050.1 Whilst good progress has been made in some areas, issues such as deforestation, land use changes, unsustainable agricultural practices and climate change continue to impact the sector’s global development and growth.
The impact of these issues is also reflected in the sector’s share of global Gross Domestic Product (GDP). This has shrunk from approximately 8% in 1995 to just 3% in 2018. More worryingly, under a business-as-usual scenario, approximately 8% of the world population (or 650 million people) will then still be undernourished by 2030.2
There is a growing need for change in the sector. Some of this change will come from innovative models and sustainable technologies to increase agricultural productivity and scaling these up rapidly and sustainably. Commitments made in 2019 by the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD) and the International Development Association (IDA) to support agriculture and related sectors are a start.3 This recent programme resulted in investments of USD5.4 billion internationally, and the implementation of 90+ projects to provide agricultural assets and services to 6.7 million farmers. Other changes and more investments will also be needed in the coming years to make a significant difference.
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Global agricultural productivity growth is increasing at an average annual rate of 1.63%, as of 2019. Feeding a world of 10 billion people by 2050 will require a 70% increase in current food production levels.
Source: UNDP Global Innovation Initiative for Sustainable Agriculture, 2019
The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs) have helped by providing a high-level blueprint for the development of the agricultural sector (including SDG 2 – Zero Hunger, SDG 9 – Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure, SDG 13 – Climate Action, and SDG 14 and SDG 15 – Life Below Water and Life on Land). By providing detailed information in each area, and highlighting linkages between them, there is improved understanding of what a better and more sustainable future for all could look like, and more sharing of new developments and best practices in the sector.4
For the countries covered by this report, a transition to more sustainable agricultural practices could help to address some of the existing challenges in the region. These are significant, some as a result of geography, some due to human development. Water scarcity, climate change, and land issues have played a significant historic role in determining what and where it is possible to produce food, whilst urbanisation and a growing dependence on food imports have further shaped the local sector. None of these are sustainable in the long term.
There is an opportunity to address this. By focusing simultaneously on the economic benefits to the country and improving the environmental resilience of agricultural practices, stakeholders in agribusinesses can further develop and strengthen local supply chains and meet the expectations of consumers. The technology exists and some early promising case studies in the region are appearing. What is needed now is more holistic engagement on the challenges and opportunities by stakeholders across the region and aligned support for the application and scale up of profitable, carbon-neutral agricultural practices.