A new World Bank and International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) report finds that repurposing current agricultural public policies could deliver multiple benefits for people, the planet, and the economy. ‘Repurposing Agricultural Policies and Support: Options to Transform Agriculture and Food Systems for Better Health of People, Economies and Planet‘ reveals that investing in climate-smart innovations that both increase agricultural productivity and reduce greenhouse gas emissions could reduce overall emissions from agriculture by more than 40%, restore 105 million hectares of agricultural land to natural habitats, and reduce the cost of healthy foods, thereby also contributing to better nutritional outcomes. To achieve this, concerted action is needed, including support to low- and middle-income countries, facing fiscal constraints, to review current policies and prioritize green investments.
As experts and Ministers of Agriculture meet this week for the annual Global Forum for Food and Agriculture hosted by the German government, the report also notes that current policies only return 35 cents to farmers for every US dollar of public support. According to modeling conducted by the authors, redirecting about $70 billion a year, equivalent to 1% of global agricultural output, would improve economic efficiency and result in net gains to the global economy of about $2.4 trillion in 2040.
“Agricultural policies and public support programs are ripe for change. Policymakers are well-placed to scrutinize and rethink current policies and programs to better benefit farmers, increase food security, build resilience in the face of climate change, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions,” said Martien van Nieuwkoop, Director of the Agriculture and Food Global Practice at the World Bank.
Under a “business-as-usual” scenario, the report estimates that greenhouse gas emissions from agricultural production will double by 2040, with 56 million hectares of new land being used for agriculture between 2020 and 2040. However, there are important trade-offs for policymakers to consider as they seek to reform agricultural support policies to achieve better outcomes.
For example, the report finds that simply eliminating support would lower farm output and increase poverty while generating only modest climate gains. Making support conditional on more environmentally friendly but lower-yielding production methods can generate climate benefits, but would increase food prices and poverty, while expanding agricultural land use.
The most effective repurposing, therefore, requires policy incentives and public investment in technologies that both reduce emissions and enhance productivity to meet growing demand for food and ensure food security. These technologies include feed supplements that reduce livestock emissions while increasing productivity, and rice production systems that use less water and produce less methane, without compromising farmers’ incomes and yields.
International collaboration will be vital. “Everyone must come together to reset current policies if we are to address the threats of climate change and unsustainable food systems. Together we can build better food systems and progress towards shared development goals, if we start reforming our public policies now,” said Johan Swinnen, Director General of IFPRI and Global Director for Systems Transformation, CGIAR.
The World Bank is working with governments to rethink and transform food systems, including redirecting public support to produce better outcomes, foster innovation and enable sustainable growth. Building on policy analysis by IFPRI, the World Bank is helping several countries assess the trade-offs and benefits of different policy options, to identify the best path forward for reform.