Food Security and the Sustainable Development Goals

NAECJonathan Brooks, Head of Agro-food Trade and Markets Division, OECD Trade and Agriculture Directorate

The new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) include a significant number of interconnected objectives related to agriculture and food. SDG 2 focuses explicitly on food by seeking to “end hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture”, but multiple other goals relate to challenges in the food system. SDG 1 focuses on poverty reduction, where agriculture and food has a key role to play. Sustainable agriculture plays a central role in achieving SDG 6 on water, SDG 12 on sustainable consumption and production, SDG 13 on climate change adaptation and mitigation and SDG 15 on land use and ecosystems.

A majority of the world’s poor lives in rural areas, where farming – predominantly by smallholders – is the central economic activity. Large increases in agricultural investment will be needed both to raise incomes and increase the supply of food sustainably. Most of the investment will need to come from the private sector, but governments have an important role in establishing the framework conditions. Public investment, supported by development aid, can also complement and attract private investment. Policies that support agriculture’s enabling environment, but do not distort incentives or crowd out the private sector, are likely to be more effective in the long term than specific subsidies to the agricultural sector. Priority areas for public spending include research, innovation and rural infrastructure, together with social protection and backstopping to ensure improved nutrition.

Agricultural productivity growth will increase food availability and benefit consumers to the extent that domestic prices are lower than they would otherwise be. Productivity gains imply lower unit costs and also translate into higher incomes for innovating farmers. But the resulting decline in prices dissipates some of these gains. Farmers who fail to innovate will only experience the price decline and thus face adjustment pressure. For that reason, broad-based development is needed to ensure that less competitive farmers are pulled, rather than pushed, out of farming into more remunerative activities.

Trade will have an increasingly important role to play in ensuring global food security. Developed and major emerging economies in particular need to avoid policies that distort world markets, making them a less reliable source of food supplies. Multilateral action to ensure that national policies do not generate a new range of spill-overs that compromise food security in poor countries has been elusive thus far but remains a priority for early action.

Climate change and the degradation of land, water and biodiversity resources are expected to require changes in production systems. Policies at the national level need to be aligned towards sustainable productivity objectives. An essential step is to remove agricultural policy incentives to market-distorting environmentally harmful practices, such as subsidies to energy and agricultural inputs. More efforts are needed in the areas of agricultural R&D, technology development, and skills. Environmental policies are also required to ensure well-defined property rights for natural resources and to tackle economy-wide environmental challenges. Given the local specificity of the challenges, targeted agri-environmental policies have a role to play to effectively redress negative environmental impacts and to ensure a better management of resources.

Fisheries provide jobs and nutrition to hundreds of millions of people worldwide, especially in poor coastal areas. Overfishing threatens the long-term health of fisheries and ultimately harms fishery-dependent communities. The benefits of reform of fisheries policies are clear. Controlling harvest to achieve maximum sustainable yield is estimated to enable the sector to produce an additional USD 50 billion per year or more in profits. Recovering fish stocks can lead to eventually harvesting nearly 20% more fish than is possible at current stock levels.

Useful links


Why a meeting of ministers?

Ministers of Agriculture from OECD countries and partner economies around the world will meet at OECD headquarters in Paris on 7-8 April 2016, to discuss Better Policies to Achieve a Productive, Sustainable and Resilient Global Food System (click on the banner for background reports and other resources). Ministers will explore the new policies needed to achieve this widely shared interest, and will exchange on how to ensure that existing policies begin to shift in these directions more quickly.

Agriculture Ministers last met at the OECD in February 2010, in the midst of volatile world food markets. Six years later, and as requested by Ministers, it is again time to assess whether the policies governments are pursuing are well targeted to address emerging issues and public priorities. Population growth and increasing prosperity are driving and changing demand for agricultural products. The sector will need to adapt to climate change, including to the expected increased frequency of extreme events, and will also have to be part of the mitigation effort. There will be increased competition for limited natural resources, in particular water.

Against this background Ministers will:

  • exchange ideas about which policies would best accompany the sector in responding to these opportunities and challenges and how to manage the transition to a new policy framework
  • cover the entire food chain, with a strong focus on the knowledge and innovation systems needed to achieve sustainable productivity growth
  • discuss how to strengthen global collaboration to that end, including through trade, science and technology, and education and advisory services
  • reflect on how the food system can contribute to the overall well-being of their economies, and on how overall policy settings can be more conducive to achieving sustainable productivity growth in the global food system

This meeting of Agriculture Ministers comes in the wake of several other important high-level events: the G20 Agriculture Ministerial under the Turkish Presidency of the G20 in May 2015, the UN Special Summit on Sustainable Development in September 2015, the COP21 in November-December 2015, the WTO Ministerial Conference in December 2015, and Germany’s Global Forum for Food and Agriculture in January 2016.

Global Food Security: Challenges for the Food and Agricultural System

OECD work on sustainable agriculture

Guest author

2 comments to “Food Security and the Sustainable Development Goals”

You can leave a reply or Trackback this post.
  1. Charles Kovacs - 06/04/2016 Reply

    The population of our planet is still growing and this article is a timely reminder of what needs to be done. In fact, we had a similar problem after WWII on an even greater scale. The problem was then solved by the “Green Revolution,” mostly through improved seeds and the introduction of DDT. The latter became discredited later because of its perceived dangers, but meanwhile it must have saved millions from starving to death.
    Today, the simplest way to feed everyone is still to produce food and then to ensure that it is received by the hungry. This should be the primary objective in the case of the neediest countries.
    Fishing is a complex and difficult subject and unlikely to be solved without challenging China’s fishing fleet. If there is any inclination to do this, then poor littoral countries need to be assisted in increasing and operating their Coast Guard type forces.

Leave a Reply