Alternative Futures for Global Food and Agriculture

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18 Feb 2016
9789264247826 (PDF) ;9789264247758(print)

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We face the challenges of developing a global food system that will feed a growing and more affluent population while preserving sensitive ecosystems, competing for limited natural resources, increasing agricultural productivity growth while mitigating and adapting to climate change and other threats, and contributing to rural area well-being.

This report develops three contrasting scenarios to illustrate alternative futures, based on several global economic models and extensive discussions with relevant stakeholders, and outlines policy considerations to help ensure that future needs are met in an economically, environmentally and socially sustainable manner.  The scenarios highlight the fundamental uncertainties surrounding forward-oriented decision making, and point to the crucial importance of international co-operation across multiple policy areas.

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  • Foreword

    Will our global food system be able to feed nine billion people without destroying sensitive ecosystems or social coherence? Can agricultural productivity keep apace with rapidly increasing demand while faced with significant and unpredictable challenges such as climate change, livestock diseases and other factors which escalate production costs? Will farming be a profitable business in the coming decades, helping rural areas to develop and maintain their role within economies and livelihoods? Such fundamental questions are pivotal to any discussion of the future of agricultural markets and the food system. However, the numerous uncertain and changing factors which surround these concerns can pose immense challenges for the development of effective policy and industry strategies to address them.

  • Executive summary

    The global food system faces numerous challenges which will shape developments towards 2050. Feeding – and indeed nourishing – a growing, more affluent and increasingly demanding population while preserving sensitive ecosystems; increasing agricultural productivity growth while both adapting to and mitigating climate change and other threats; competing for access to increasingly limited land, water and other natural resources; and contributing to rural area well-being, to name just a few. Nevertheless, the future is not necessarily bleak, as beyond this daunting list of challenges lie crucial opportunities which should not be overlooked.

  • Key trends and long-term scenarios: Framing the future of food and agriculture

    Three key trends currently frame the future challenges facing our food and agriculture systems: growing and shifting food demand, constraints upon natural resources, and agricultural productivity uncertainties resulting from climate change. The choices made by policy makers and businesses today will be pivotal in determining the extent to which global food and agriculture systems will be impacted by these trials. Nevertheless, the uncertainties which surround future challenges pose substantial obstacles to the formulation of policy and industry strategies that will be effective across a range of scenarios in the long run. While scenario analysis does not present "forecasts" and is subject to numerous caveats, it can provide a useful alternative approach to dealing with an inherently uncertain future. This chapter presents three long-term scenarios for the world in 2050 – Individual, Fossil Fuel- Driven Growth; Citizen-Driven, Sustainable Growth; and Fast, Globally-Driven Growth – and explores the agricultural markets within these alternative "futures".

  • Overview of main challenges and opportunities in food and agriculture

    A large number of challenges to the future of agriculture have been identified within the OECD work on Long-Term Scenarios for Food and Agriculture. This chapter explores the following seven challenges in further depth within the context of the three long-term scenarios: i) food and nutrition security, ii) economic sustainability of farming; iii) biodiversity and scarcity of natural resources; iv) agricultural greenhouse gas emissions and other pollution; v) diets and nutrition; vi) trans-boundary livestock diseases and vii) food safety. While the three "worlds" of Individual, Fossil Fuel-Driven Growth, of Citizen-Driven, Sustainable Growth and of Fast, Globally-Driven Growth all present common risks, such as those related to the environment, their magnitude varies substantially between scenarios. The performance of each of these scenarios is compared in order to facilitate the identification of strategies to manage risks and avail of future opportunities, which will be discussed in Chapter 3.

  • Policy and implementation strategies for the future of food and agriculture

    In spite of the uncertainties which surround the future of food and agricultural systems, there is clarity in one respect: the choices made by policy makers, businesses and consumers today will be pivotal in determining the extent to which global food and agriculture systems will be impacted by the challenges discussed in the previous chapters. This chapter identifies and discusses five key strategies for action by public actors – and indeed other stakeholders, where relevant: i) accelerated movement towards more sustainable lifestyles and consumption patterns, ii) increased coherence of food market regulations, iii) sustainable productivity growth and climate resilience, iv) strengthened infrastructure, and v) improved and broadened risk management systems. The majority of these would enable the management of risks and seizing of opportunities across different scenarios with no or limited side-effects, even if the magnitude of the benefits may vary.

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