The story of
Agriculture

and the
Sustainable
Development Goals

2015

2015 is an important year for the future of agriculture and development.

A new set of global Sustainable Development Goals, or “SDGs”, will shape the next 15 years of policies, programmes and funding.
More than any other sector, agriculture is the common thread which holds the 17 SDGs together.

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 mobilise scientific, technological and social movements to address these challenges together.

The SDGs aim to address the complex challenges we face in our interconnected world.

Universal

(for both developed and developing countries)

Holistic

(people-centred and planet-sensitive)

Measurable

(to drive action and track progress)

Explore more about agriculture's role in the SDGs, and get involved by sharing our message with your networks.


Part 1:

Hunger, Malnutrition,
Sustainable Agriculture

Sustainable Development Goal #2
calls specifically to:

“end hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture.”

To fulfil this goal, the United Nations has identified a series of specific targets (see 2.1-2.5), as well as the means of implementation (see 2.a-2.c) for reaching them. Explore Goal 2 in depth here:

Hunger 2.1. “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.

Modified Image
Original Image

Of the estimated 805 million people experiencing chronic hunger globally, around three quarters live in rural areas and are overwhelmingly dependent on agriculture for their food and livelihoods. Here’s a breakdown, by region, of where hunger still impacts the most:

526

million in Asia and the Pacific (65% of total)

227

million in Africa (28% of total)

37

million in Latin America / Caribbean (5% of total)

15

million in developed countries (2% of total)

Tackling hunger is not only about boosting food production; it’s 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.

Malnutrition 2.2. “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.

3.1

million child deaths from malnutrition each year

52

million children under-five years of age wasted

165

million children under-five years of age stunted

500

million women of reproductive age (15-49) suffer from anemia


Agriculture can play an important role to address malnutrition in three ways:

1

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.

2

Micronutrient-enriched fertilizers improve soil fertility, helping to support higher yields of more nutritious food and can combat micronutrient deficiencies in humans.

3

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 2.3. “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 needs to come from increased productivity.

Modified Image
Original Image

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 market. For instance, the agricultural sector accounts for one-third of gross-domestic product (GDP) and three-quarters of employment in Sub-Saharan Africa.

As the graph below indicates, most of the population growth up through the year 2030 will occur in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. And while the latter is expected to nearly eliminate extreme poverty, it is set to persist on the African continent.

Crop Yield Growth

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 2.4. “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.

Impacts of Climate Change

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 drip irrigation and soil health to promoting disaster preparedness. (Explore the animated series ‘Resilience in Agriculture’ produced by Farming First and the International Food Policy research Institute for more.)

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 productivity of land already under cultivation and thus reducing deforestation. A higher price of carbon can help incentivise 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 agriculture’s water use efficiency while still supporting higher productivity.

Reducing food waste is another area which 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.

Biodiversity 2.5. “by 2020 maintain 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”

To 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 other land as natural habitat where biodiversity can flourish (instead of using land more extensively for agricultural 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.

Biodiversity

Investment 2.a. “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 least developed countries”

There is general consensus that investing in rural public goods (such as roads, power, irrigation, education, health, water, agricultural research and extension) is one of the best ways to support agricultural production and livelihoods.

A 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.

Investment

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.

Trade 2b “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 Round”

More 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 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.

Trade

Commodity Markets 2.c. “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”

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.

Commodity Markets

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 a 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.

Part 2:

Agriculture Across
the SDGs

Reaching the SDG targets simply will not be possible without a strong and sustainable agricultural sector.

More than just its direct impact on hunger and malnutrition, our food system is also linked to other development challenges being addressed in the SDGs.

Explore agriculture’s connection to many of the 17 SDGs here:

Goal 1

Poverty Alleviation

Rural people represent the largest segment of the world’s extreme poor by far – more than 70% of the total. Growth in agriculture is at least twice as effective in reducing poverty than from any other sector.

Poverty Alleviation

Goal 4

Education

Agricultural extension enables farmers to access to the skills, tools, inputs and knowledge they need to thrive.

Education

Goal 5

Gender Equality

Women farmers produce 20-30% less than their male counterparts, mostly due to differences in their access and use of resources. Women produce over half the food worldwide, so bridging this gap could reduce global hunger by as much as 17%.

Gender Equality

Goal 6

Water Use

By 2030, global water demand will increase more than 50%, with agriculture alone requiring more than what can be sustained to feed the world even before domestic and industrial needs are met.

Water Use

Goal 7

Energy Use

By 2030, energy demand is expected to increase as much as 50%, driven mostly by developing world demand. More crops are likely to be diverted for use as biofuels, doubling or even tripling as a proportion of total use.

Gender Equality

Goal 8

Economic growth and employment

Agriculture is an engine of pro-poor economic growth in rural areas. Entrepreneurship across the rural and food sectors can generate employment and growth. Find out for whom…

Economic Growth

Goal 12

Sustainable consumption and production

Average per capita consumption is expected to grow through 2030, despite population increases. At the same time, around one third of food produced is wasted.

Sustainable Consumption

Goal 13

Climate change

By 2030, agriculture’s carbon mitigation potential could reach as much as 7.5% of total global emissions, depending on the price of carbon and adoption of agricultural productivity measures.

Climate Change

Goal 15

Ecosystem management

Improving the efficiency of farmland can help meet the world’s growing consumption demand while minimising the loss of natural habitats and forests for additional cultivation.

Ecosystem Management

Part 3:

Additional Resources

Help spread the word about agriculture's importance in the SDGs.

Use the resources here to learn more, follow the negotiations and plan your outreach:


Key Messages
  • Placing sustainable agriculture, food security and nutrition as the second goal reflects their primacy.
  • Achieving zero hunger means a focus on food and nutrition. If children are malnourished and their growth stunted in their first 1000 days their health is impacted for the rest of their life.  Their capacity to build and shape their future can be irrevocably harmed. It starts with farming and touches every person on the planet.
  • The indicators on the Post 2015 agenda must include hunger, nutrition, poverty, learning and sustainability issues so that agriculture can fulfill its role and potential within the SDGs.
  • Investment in agriculture needs to grow from all actors. The L’Aquila commitments did not flow adequately and agriculture remains underfunded. It is the top priority in the means of implementation and it should be an indicator.
  • Just as people-centred approaches are at the core of the development aspirations of the UN, agriculture programs need to be ‘farmer-centred and knowledge-based’ so that the full potential of farmers, both men and women, including small-holder and commercial farmers, can be harnessed in making food security and sustainable development a reality.
  • Sustainable agriculture is knowledge-based and requires a holistic view. There is no “one-size-fits-all” solution in agriculture: The SDGs and Post 2015 process must reflect a broad diversity of farming systems: from livestock to crop; horticulture to agro-forestry; modern to traditional; co-operatives to businesses; smallholders to large.
  • We need ALL partners at the table – governments, farmers, scientists, civil society and private sector – in financing and means of implementation discussions around the Sustainable Development Goals.
Key Dates

Key dates in the calendar of events related to the Sustainable Development Goals include:

  • 20-24 April – Post-2015 intergovernmental negotiations (New York) – Farming First delegation will be on-site
  • 18-22 May – Post-2015 intergovernmental negotiations (New York)
  • 22-26 June – Post-2015 intergovernmental negotiations (New York)
  • 13-16 July – Third International Conference on Financing for Development (Addis Ababa)
  • 20-31 July – Post-2015 intergovernmental negotiations (New York) – Farming First will be on-site – Farming First delegation will be on-site
  • 25-27 September – United Nations Summit (convened as a high-level plenary meeting of the General Assembly to adopt the post-2015 development agenda)

See also a full list of SDG-related events on the UN website here or another regularly updated calendar by the Guardian here.

Key Resources

The SDG Negotiations:

Food Security and Nutrition:

Markets and Trade:

Sustainability and Resilience:


All content is freely available for non-commercial use by others, if attributed to Farming First.