Solution Cluster 3.1.2

Repurposing Public Support to Food and Agriculture: A Just Rural Transition to Sustainable Food Systems

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 according to the goals of the time – 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.

Guided by a Policy Action Agenda, this Solution Cluster will support countries who have indicated a desire to repurpose their forms of public agricultural support by helping them a) identify which public support measures are exacerbating these challenges and b) redesign them –  not only to ‘do no harm,’ but to improve food and nutrition security, strengthen soil and water quality, increase biodiversity, build resilience, and address nature and climate emergencies. These repurposed policies will align with countries’ international trade agreements, 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 720 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 production1; 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 A few countries also tax their agricultural sectors which also affects producer incomes.3

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. Some countries have introduced initial policies to address these challenges with limited success. To be truly effective, however, what is required are more holistic, tailored policy responses with better targeting. 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.

1Part 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.

2Searchinger, 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.

3The 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.

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.

Peer-to-Peer Learning Platform

Through the course of 2021, countries have been invited to participate in a series of Ministerial policy dialogues co-hosted by the COP26 Presidency and the World Bank.  This is intended to form the basis of a Peer-to-Peer Learning Platform – a ‘coalition of the willing’ in which countries can share evidence and experiences related to policy repurposing. The platform is helping to build knowledge and provide countries with the confidence that repurposing support policies for agriculture can help deliver national climate, environment and food/nutrition security objectives. The platform enables participants to build relationships with peers in different countries that yield insights on the political and technical dimensions of repurposing processes. The intention that the Platform’s success results in a gravitational pull, drawing new countries to the repurposing agenda. 

Analytical and Technical Support

The Solution Cluster brings together many of the key international agencies, knowledge and implementation partners to help countries access analytical and technical support for ‘repurposing’ initiatives. Stakeholders from knowledge and implementation agencies, donors, financial entities and others are encouraged to indicate via the Policy Action Agenda how they can provide support. This is important because many countries do not have current data on their levels of subsidies and other forms of support, and related indicators. Many countries may need help identifying which forms of public support to food and agriculture are exacerbating challenges; performing ex ante impact analyses to demonstrate the potential effects of repurposing; determining what opportunities exist to repurpose those policies; and judging which repurposing ‘pathways’ could promote the transition with minimal trade-offs, achieving both national and international priorities in the short-term and long-term. Countries also may need assistance designing inclusive consultation approaches, and design approaches that reflect different regional, national and local contexts.

Multistakeholder Consultations

As a contribution to this solution cluster, the Just Rural Transition (JRT) Secretariat have facilitated multistakeholder consultations with food producers, investors, other private sector actors across the value chain, civil society and other key stakeholders.  Organizations who wish to participate in future dialogues are encouraged to register interest on the JRT website.  Organizations may also choose to endorse the JRT Vision Statement to become formal members of the JRT’s multi-stakeholder community.

The JRT’s Food Producer Survey is soliciting the perspectives of farmers, fishers, pastoralists, herders, and others across the globe. To date, feedback has received feedback from food producers – or those that work with them – in India, Uganda, Pakistan, Tanzania, Zimbabwe, Mauritius, Kenya, Malawi, Uganda, South Africa, New Zealand, and Mozambique, among others. The emerging insights speak to how food producers view the need for policy repurposing and how they see themselves being involved in it. They will also serve as the basis for sustained engagement with food producer organizations beyond UNFSS and COP 26 as the Solution Cluster shifts to country-level implementation work.

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