The agriculture industry is at the heart of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals, and is the driving force behind Goal 2: Zero Hunger. Globally, agriculture is the world’s biggest employer,(1) but it also has one of the largest environmental impacts.(2) Agriculture is caught between needing to produce more food for a growing population and innovating to effectively utilize the resources required to meet the world’s demand. To help achieve these challenges, the United Nations has created a series of targets for accomplishing Goal 2: Zero Hunger by 2030.(3)
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.
In 2019, approximately two billion people did not have regular access to safe, nutritious, and sufficient food all year round.(3)Women who live in rural areas and those from the region of sub-Sahara Africa are most at risk. However, despite the drastic increase in the world’s population, agriculture has evolved so the number of undernourished people has stayed roughly the same.(4) Looking forward, we hope to eliminate this number altogether.
2.2 By 2030, end all forms of malnutrition, including achieving, by 2025, the internationally agreed targets on stunting and wasting in children under 5 years of age, and address the nutritional needs of adolescent girls, pregnant and lactating women and older persons.
Malnutrition occurs when a person’s intake of nutrients is either too low or too high. Wasting and stunting can occur when there are inadequate vitamins and minerals in a person’s diet. Likewise, obesity can occur when food is consumed in excess. Currently, 1.9 billion adults are overweight, while 462 million are underweight. In children under the age of five, poor nutrition is the cause of approximately 46 per cent of deaths.(5) Breeding nutrient-rich crops, improving soil health, and reducing post-harvest losses are three ways malnutrition can be tackled.
Did You Know?
48,000 children’s lives could be saved through enriching rice and wheat with zinc.(6)
2.3 By 2030, double the agricultural productivity and incomes of small-scale food producers, in particular 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.
Small-scale food producers are important to sustainability. Hunger is not caused by a lack of global food production, but a lack of distribution to and equality in developing regions. Developing and supporting local food systems can help to solve hunger in crisis regions. In sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, where hunger is the most prevalent, small-scale producers cultivate 80 per cent of farmland. However, currently as much as 20–40 per cent of food produced in these regions is lost to poor storage techniques. When agriculture and minority group producers are supported, these farms can create a thriving economy, employing the population and creating higher demand for local goods and services.(7) Developing agriculture can raise incomes by two to four times in the poorest regions,(4) but to be successful, small-scale food producers need training in livestock and crop management, as well as secure access to farmland, processing and storing facilities, and natural resources like water.
Did You Know?
50% of root crops, fruits, and vegetables are lost or wasted every year.(6)
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 has one of the largest environmental impacts, as it is responsible for 24 per cent of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions,(8) 70 per cent of water usage, and 80 per cent of deforestation worldwide.(9) However, it is also the most susceptible sector to climate change. A warmer climate could mean a reduction in crop yields by more than 25 per cent.(10) With a population expected to reach 9.7 billion by 2050,(11) producing more food with less resources and waste is an important goal. Investing in new technologies, research, and practices, such as drip irrigation, biotechnology, soil health, and disaster preparedness, are vital to the future success of the agriculture industry. These investments have great returns. For example, every dollar that is invested in the agriculture industry reduces GHG emissions by 68kg.(4)
Did You Know?
Growing coffee and bananas beside each other (intercropping) has increased farmer income by 50%. The coffee thrives under the shade of the banana trees, and growing these crops together produces more with the same amount of land.(6)
2.5 By 2020, maintain the genetic diversity of seeds, cultivated plants and farmed and domesticated animals and their related wild species, including through soundly managed and diversified seed and plant banks at the national, regional and international levels, and promote access to and fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising from the utilization of genetic resources and associated traditional knowledge, as internationally agreed.
Approximately 75 per cent of genetic diversity in agricultural crops has been lost since the beginning of the century.(12) We can ensure crop diversity by protecting and storing the genetic and raw materials necessary for continued food production. With climate change threatening future food production, the need for new and improved crops that can withstand extreme weather such as heat, drought, or floods is also important. This is where biotechnology and genetic modification are useful. Breeding can create plants that are resistant to disease, pests, and weeds, creating larger yields. Genetic modifications can also make food more nutritious, enhancing vitamins and minerals. However, breeding new crop varieties can take up to ten years, so storing existing and historical plant varieties can safeguard them for the future. Seed and plant banks used to store these materials can provide easier access to healthy and nutritious food, and, as a result, create more stable food prices worldwide.(13)
Did You Know?
Norway’s Svalbard Global Seed Vault safely stores over 880,000 seed samples, protecting them from extinction and future disasters.(6)
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 in order to enhance agricultural productive capacity in developing countries, in particular least developed countries.
Partnerships between countries and companies can help develop agriculture where it is most needed to eliminate hunger. This can be accomplished through investing in roads, power, irrigation, agriculture education, and agriculture research in developing countries. These provide the people in these regions with the technology, genetic material, transportation, and skills needed to break into the food market and grow their emerging economies. To meet food demand in 2050, it is estimated that eighty-three billion dollars will need to be invested in agriculture in developing countries.(4)
2.B Correct and prevent trade restrictions and distortions in world agricultural markets, including through 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.
Trade is incredibly important to moving food worldwide. Trade ensures that regions without enough food are able to receive food from regions with surpluses. Also, encouraging exports from developing countries can help these regions gain a stronger economy over time by creating a sustainable food market with equal opportunities.
Agricultural export subsidies allow producers in developed countries to offer their goods to other countries at lower prices.(14) This creates competition between developed countries, but can be devastating to the economies of developing regions, when their consumers choose to purchase the cheaper, foreign food rather than support their own local food system and economy. And while lower prices and increased food exports might sound good, these low prices often don’t last. Export subsidies can mean higher prices in the long-term, as selling food domestically becomes more expensive than exporting it. This creates inflation, as domestic consumers require pay raises to match increased food prices in their area. As food prices rise in developed countries, it also drives up the price of their exported goods. This can create an imbalance in the market, where developing countries have a hard time competing with developed countries and food prices slowly climb.
The Doha Development Round (launched out of a conference in Doha, Qatar) is the most recent round of trade negotiations among World Trade Organization (WTO) members. These negotiations were tasked with reducing trade barriers and revising trade rules, helping create a more welcoming system for developing countries with emerging economies.(15)
There are three main barriers to trade.(16) The first is natural barriers, such as distance and language. Advances in transportation and translation will help overcome this challenge. The second barrier is tariffs. Tariffs are taxes a country’s government places on goods imported from another country. These taxes raise the food prices of foreign foods, making consumers less likely to buy them at the store. These taxes are put in place to protect the country’s local food production, but can be harmful to developing countries that wish to enter the market of food trading. The demand for their products can be low if consumers won’t purchase their food due to high prices. The third barrier is non-tariff barriers, which include governments giving privileges to local manufacturers and retailers (buy-national regulations), limiting the number of imported goods from another country (import quota), banning either imported or exported goods (embargo), or implementing laws that limit the amount of foreign money a company can be paid (exchange controls).(17) These trade barriers can hurt emerging economies where the population is largely food producers.
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.
Sudden food price fluctuations (market volatility) can occur due to natural disasters, changes in government policies and regulations, the rise and fall of consumer demand, or the current level of food stored up worldwide.(18) When food prices fluctuate, they have a negative impact on developing countries that often don’t receive global market information as quickly. Without this information, these regions cannot adapt to changes in the market that help create a strong economy. By helping develop systems that connect producers to market information, we are setting them up for success. With this information, they can effectively judge what crops to grow, how much to charge, and where they’ll be able to sell their product.
Did You Know?
Extending information and education to smallholder farms could double their crop yields.(6)
For more information on The Sustainable Development Goals explore our Nourishing Minds publications here.
3 UN—Goal 2: Zero Hunger
4 Farming First—The Story of Agriculture and the Sustainable Development Goals
6 Farming First—Sustainable Development Goals
7 Food Sustainability Index—Food Sustainability and the Role of Smallholder Farmers
9 The World Bank—Agriculture and Food, 2020
11 UN—World Population Prospects, 2019
13 Crop Trust—Crop Diversity: Why it Matters
14 Globalization101—Export Subsidies
15 WTO—The Doha Round
16 Introduction to Business—Barriers to Trade
17 Investopedia—Exchange Controls
18 Council on Foreign Relations—Food Price Volatility and Insecurity, 2013