Agricultural Subsidies Are Hindering Progress On the SDGs – Triple Pundit

Posted: September 20, 2021 at 8:43 am

End poverty in all its forms everywhere. Ensure gender equality and empower all women and girls. Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns. These are a few of the aspirationsmember states are targetingby 2030 through the United Nations 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Recent reports from the U.N., however, beg the question: Was 2030 a pipe dream?

TakeGoal 13, which focuses on combating climate change: The reportissued by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)last month raised thousands of pages of red flags about our progress. Another report from the U.N. published this month puts the spotlight on the SDGs yet again. The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, U.N. Development Programand U.N. Environment Programopen a report about food systems by stating:With eight years remaining, we are falling far short of the trajectory needed to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. Authors cite speed and comprehensiveness as needed but lacking.

In calling out lack of speedy and comprehensive action to reshape food systems in support of the SDGs, the U.N. agencies take aim at agricultural subsidies in particular.

"Current support to agricultural producers worldwide works against the attainment of the SDGs, the targets of the Paris Agreement and our common future, the reports forward reads. This support is biased towards measures that are harmful and unsustainable for nature, climate, nutrition and health, while disadvantaging women and other smallholder farmers in the sector."

Assessing support for agricultural producers in 88 nations, the U.N. reportplaces global agricultural subsidies at $540 billion a year, or 15 percent of total agricultural production value. The agenciescontendthat over two-thirds of this support is price-distorting and largely harmful to the environment. They estimate the value of these subsidies could increase to $1.8 trillion a year by 2030.

Sugar, beef, milk and rice are some of the most subsidized commodities in the world, the report outlines and all of these productsare either nutrient-poor or carbon-intensive, if not both. Authors calculate that eliminating agricultural subsidies entirely could mean avoiding 11.3 million tons of carbon equivalent emissionsby 2030, but they warn that the costs to farmer incomes and food prices would only exacerbate poverty and undernourishment essentially supporting one SDG while sacrificing many others.

In short: Governments needto redirect financial assistance and the U.N. report outlinessix steps to do it. These include: estimatethe support already provided to agricultural producers, identifyand estimatethe impact of this support, designan approach and reforms to repurpose support in more productive directions, estimatethe impact of the new strategy, reviewand refinethe strategy, implement it,and monitoroutcomes.

The action itemsthe U.N. agencies pose for governments underscore that simply eliminating agricultural subsidies won't work.Funds must be redirected for governments to reap the benefits and for sustainable agricultural systems, such as regenerative agriculture, to grow.

Repurposing agricultural support can improve both productivity and environmental outcomes, saidAchim Steiner, administrator of the U.N. Development Program (UNDP),in a recent statementoutliningtheeconomic benefit of actually following through with the U.N.'s recommendations. This change will also boost the livelihoods of the 500 million smallholder farmers worldwide, many of them women, by ensuring a more level playing field, he said.

Whilestrategies must be country-specific, the U.N.also emphasizes that global coordination is needed, if only to standardize the monitoring and reporting of financial support. A good place to begin international cooperation? The reportpoints to the U.N. Food Systems Summit, taking place on Thursday as part of Climate Week,and recommends that repurposing agricultural support be placed at the top of the agenda.

Image credit:Roman Synkevych/Unpslash

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Agricultural Subsidies Are Hindering Progress On the SDGs - Triple Pundit

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