Solution Cluster 3.1.2

Repurposing public support to food and agriculture

A Just Transition to Sustainable Agriculture through Policy Reform & Public Support Meeting the triple challenge of food and nutrition security, climate and biodiversity

Providing nutritious, affordable food for a growing global population while protecting the vital natural systems that sustain life is one of the critical challenges of the coming decade.  In recent decades, a large portion of public support to the food and agriculture sector has been directed at supporting food production and farm incomes through increasing both yields and short-term productivity, particularly for major food security crops.  By some measures, these policies were successful – for example, while the global population doubled, food production almost quadrupled.

However, current public support to the food and agriculture sector does not address mounting challenges linked to climate change and environmental degradation (of water, soils, and biodiversity) and poor dietary quality that can undermine long term productivity and sustainability, livelihoods, food and nutrition security, and health (including zoonoses). In some cases, public support to the food and agriculture sector exacerbates these challenges.

The Solution Cluster will work with countries who recognise the need to repurpose their support: to identify which public support measures are exacerbating these challenges; to identify food and agricultural policies that ‘do no harm’ across these parameters and that ensure food and nutrition security, improve soil and water quality, increase biodiversity, strengthen resilience, and address nature and climate emergencies. These policies will be in line with countries’ international trade agreements and based on internationally recognised science- and risk-based policies and regulatory frameworks.

About this Solution Cluster

According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the 54 countries producing two-thirds of the world’s food provided over USD 700 billion per year of transfers to their agricultural and food sector through direct subsidies, price supports, tariffs, import quotas, and other policy measures (2017-2019 figures). Nearly 75 percent is direct support for producers and production;[1]Part of this support is financed by taxpayers that can be reallocated to other uses. However, most of the support is provided through price supports paid by consumers and may be more difficult to repurpose. and about 15 percent is directed to public services like research, environment, or food safety.  According to World Bank analysis, only 5% of direct public support for agriculture explicitly targets conservation and other public goods, and only 6% supports research, extension and technical assistance.[2]Searchinger, Timothy D., Chris Malins, Patrice Dumas, David Baldock, Joe Glauber, Thomas Jayne, Jikun Huang, and Paswel Marenya. 2020. “Revising Public Agricultural Support to Mitigate Climate Change.” Development Knowledge and Learning. World Bank, Washington, DC. License: Creative Commons Attribution CC BY 3.0 IGO. A few countries also tax their agricultural sectors which also affects producer incomes.[3]The OECD figures do not capture the public policies in many developing economies, nor do they count other forms of support that may be outside the strict definition of food and agriculture, but that can exacerbate climate, environmental and nutritional challenges.

Agricultural policies such as input subsidies can improve food security in the short term by increasing yield and production. However, by encouraging farmers to use more agricultural inputs, like fertiliser or water, they can induce negative environmental and health impacts. Where countries have reformed policies to address these challenges, they are often not sufficient or effective. More holistic approaches to policy-making and better targeting and tailoring of public incentives can help future-proof food systems.  Repurposing public support also offers an important opportunity to recognise and value the contribution of food producers and to empower all food chain actors, from producers to consumers to be positive agents of change. Building trust and shared purpose through inclusive consultation approaches can overcome political economy challenges for the repurposing agenda.

Global awareness of these issues is increasing, with a number of important new reports and case studies building the knowledge and evidence base. Political momentum is also growing. At the 2021 Global Forum for Food and Agriculture, Ministers of Agriculture representing 76 countries indicated, inter alia, their commitment “to repurpose domestic policies on agriculture, to promote and steer investment towards sustainable agricultural practices that support climate-change adaptation and mitigation.” Recent discussions in environmental fora such as the Convention on Biological Diversity have underscored the need for environmentally positive or neutral forms of public support. 

Farmers are already looking for sustainable solutions which can be scaled up or replicated with the right policy environment and incentives.   Food producers face growing risks from unsustainable production and climate impacts. Preliminary consultations with food producers conducted by the Just Rural Transition in partnership with the World Farmers’ Organisation indicate support for a repurposing agenda which enables them to address some of these critical challenges with locally tailored solutions.

Global Initiatives will promote this Solution Cluster.  This Solution Cluster is working closely with the COP26 Sustainable Agriculture campaign, through which countries are invited to a series of Policy Dialogues co-convened by the COP26 Presidency and the World Bank.  A Ministerial Dialogue held on 26 April initiated this process, with technical dialogues in May and July. A second Ministerial Dialogue is planned for the Food Systems Summit. Countries are invited to develop case studies to share their experience and learnings. Countries are also invited to develop food system transformation strategies for the Food System Summit.  A published co-chairs statement will summarise outcomes from the Policy Dialogues, and an Action Agenda will highlight ways in which countries can move forward with repurposing policies and public support to food and agriculture – in line with their food system transformation strategies, and the process by which this can be supported. This includes: 

A Peer -to-Peer Learning Platform that offers countries the opportunity to share evidence and experiences. This aims to build confidence that repurposing policies and public support for agriculture is not only possible but necessary to achieve a country’s climate, environment and food/nutrition security objectives. 

Multistakeholder Consultations with food producers, investors, the private sector, civil society and other key stakeholders.  With support from the Just Rural Transition (JRT) Secretariat, the Solution Cluster Working Group and others, outreach and engagement will ensure diverse perspectives are recognised and represented in the Solution Cluster communications materials for the Food Systems Summit and through to COP26, with a growing “community of purpose” emerging around these issues.

Analytical and Technical Support from knowledge and implementation partners. Many countries do not have data on their levels of subsidies and other forms of support, and related indicators.  Support will be scaled to help countries collect data, build the evidence base, support inclusive consultation approaches, and design approaches that reflect different regional, national and local contexts.  Countries need to identify which forms of public support to food and agriculture are exacerbating challenges; what opportunities exist to repurpose those supports and what pathways could promote the transition and minimise trade-offs.  Existing and new tools and evidence will be highlighted, and new technical and financial resources mobilised to support analysis as well as implementation.

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