Agricultural productivity growth needs to increase in a sustainable manner - OECD-FAO Agricultural Outlook 2012-2021


Given the resource constraints and environmental pressures, exacerbated by climate change and increased volatility, the major challenge for the agri-food sector is to increase agricultural productivity in a more sustainable manner.

Sustainability of ecosystems is fundamental to maintaining the resilience in productivity growth. There is growing pressure on natural resources, including land, water, marine ecosystems, fish stocks, forests, and biodiversity, which are fundamental to sustainable production. Environmental pressures are also caused by agriculture, which accounts for about 14% of total anthropogenic greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

Increasing productivity and improving sustainability of agriculture are not mutually exclusive objectives. Much can be done that contributes to both these objectives in a complementary fashion. However, the possible farm practices to undertake generally involve a long lead time before realising the benefits, suggesting that actions are needed now.

Encouraging better agronomic practices, creating the right commercial, technical and regulatory environment and strengthening the agriculture innovation system (e.g. research, education, extension) are all essential steps. As the agri-food chain is essentially a business activity, the private sector will need to play a lead role in developing and adopting innovation but more emphasis on public-private partnerships, in such areas as research and extension services, can facilitate progress. Reducing food loss and food waste could significantly ease the pressure to increase productivity.

Progress is being made. Governments have started to orient their policy priorities to take account of the environmental consequences of food and agriculture production and consumption, and to improve incentives for optimal resource use by farmers.

The specific approach varies by agro-ecology, farming system and market conditions but consistently will involve increasing the conservation and sustainable use of natural resources in agricultural production systems, as well as the reduction of waste and pollution associated with inefficient input use and degraded ecosystems.