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The agri-food sector accounts for a small share of income and employment in developed economies, but is a major user of water and land and has significant impacts on biodiversity and greenhouse gas emissions. Agriculture production itself is dependent on healthy ecosystems. Anticipated growth in the demand for food and agricultural raw materials due to an expected world population in 2050 of over 9 billion and growing incomes—mainly in developing countries—will place considerable extra demands upon scarce natural resources, while agriculture will have to adapt to climate change, contribute to the reduction in GHG emissions, and adapt to environmental risks. It also means enhancing the environmental public goods (such as biodiversity, cultural landscapes, and carbon sequestration) produced by agriculture (Cooper et al. 2009). These are big challenges for policy makers and the agriculture sector.

Green growth, as defined by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), is the pursuit of economic growth and development, while preventing or minimising environmental degradation, GHG emission intensity of production, loss of biodiversity, and using natural resources within their carrying capacity. A green growth strategy aims to outline the various pathways and policies to ensure that enough food is provided, efficiently and sustainably, for a growing population.

The food and agricultural sector has been broadly successful at the global level over the long term in providing for an increasing and wealthier global population. Productivity growth has been strong, and has exceeded the population growth rate. Crop yields and livestock productivity have risen substantially and as a result the real price of food has declined over the long term. However, the fruits of this technical accomplishment have not been evenly shared in all countries and at all times. In some countries and regions productivity growth has been low (Alston et al. 2009) and while the number of hungry people has decreased over time, regional food crises and famines persist and there is the paradox that there are as many “over-nourished” as “undernourished” people not only in terms of calories but, as important, with respect to the nutritional composition of diets.

Moreover, from an environmental perspective, continued growth in agriculture using the “business as usual” model is not sustainable in the long run. The pressures on and depletion of natural resources, and environmental damage from some production activities and management practices are causes for concern. Nutrient run-off from farms into watercourses and soil erosion, while improving, are still significant in some countries. Public expenditure on agricultural research and development accounts for over 60 per cent of the total globally, but overall R&D expenditures have been declining (CGIAR 2005).

Climate change is expected to exacerbate the existing challenges faced by agriculture. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, it will lead to an increase in both crop and livestock productivity in mid to high latitudes[1] and a decrease in the tropical and subtropical areas. Importantly, some of the most economically vulnerable countries that are already food insecure are expected to experience the most negative impacts. On balance, at the global level the net impact is expected to be negative in the long term (IPCC 2007; IPCC 2014). The expected increased variability of climatic conditions will also necessitate important adjustments in agriculture. In some cases current production choices (type of crop or animal production) may actually cease to be viable.

In this context, Agriculture Ministers, meeting in OECD in April 2016, agreed to four key policy goals, including the following: contribution to sustainable productivity and resource use, solutions to climate change, resilience in the face of risk, and the provision of public goods and ecosystem services. In so doing, they agreed to make innovation a priority in order to achieve sustainable productivity growth; foster production systems that use available water, land, forest, energy, soil, and biodiversity resources sustainably and which promote animal, plant, and human health; and foster greater resilience of farmers to risk to enable them to cope with more frequent, unpredictable events, such as weather- related shocks, disease outbreaks, and market volatility.

This goal is, in essence, green growth, building ona 2011 OECD report on A Green Growth Strategy for Food and Agriculture, which argued that green growth is not only desirable and achievable, but is also essential if the food and nutrition requirements of future generations are to be met.[2]

  • [1] In the long term, if greenhouse gas emissions are not significantly reduced, yields will fall in mostregions.
  • [2] Other international governmental organisations have also developed policy strategies under thebroad vision of the “green economy”. They include the FAO’s Greening the Economy with Agricultureproject; UNEP’s Green Economy Initiative, which includes agriculture and fisheries; and the WorldBank through its Global Green Growth Platform. These initiatives were presented on the occasion ofthe 20th anniversary of the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development(the Earth Summit), at the Rio+20 meeting in Brazil in June 2012. Green growth is also in linewith the Sustainable Development Goals of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Developmentadopted at the United Nations Sustainable Development Summit in September 2015.
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