Source: © 2012 Paulo Whitaker/Reuters
Limeira, Brazil

2012 Global Food Policy Report

A Changing Global Harvest

Keith Fuglie and Alejandro Nin-Pratt

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In 1961 the world was feeding 3.5 billion people by cultivating 1.37 billion hectares of land. A half century later, the world population had doubled to 7 billion while land under cultivation increased by only 12 percent to 1.53 billion hectares. How, then, did agricultural production triple? By increasing productivity. By getting more output from existing resources, global agriculture has grown, proving wrong past concerns that the world’s population would exceed its food supply. In fact, at the global level, the long-run trend since at least 1900 has been one of increasing food abundance: in inflation-adjusted dollars, food prices fell by an average of 1 percent per year over the course of the 20th century (Figure 1). But then, over the past decade, something changed.

Figure 1 - Agricultural price index and population trend, 1900–2010

Sources: Source: K. O. Fuglie and S. L. Wang, “New Evidence Points to Robust but Uneven Productivity Growth in Global Agriculture,” Amber Waves 10 (September 2012). Download a larger version of Figure 1

Around 2002, real food prices began to rise, and the shock was not merely a temporary one. Agricultural commodity prices spiked sharply in 2008, 2010, and again in 2012. Demand-side factors (including continued population growth, greater per capita consumption of meat, and diversion of crop commodities for biofuel) and weather-induced production shocks (like the 2012 drought in North America) are certainly major forces behind the high and volatile prices of recent years. But the persistence of rising commodity prices has renewed concerns about whether agriculture is facing new constraints on growth. In fact, for major cereal grains like wheat and rice, average rates of yield growth have slowed from about 2 percent per year in the 1970s and 1980s to about 1 percent per year since 1990. Additionally, there is evidence that some developed countries have recently seen a slowing down of growth in agricultural total factor productivity (a broad measure of sectorwide productivity), which has an effect on developing and developed countries alike.1 A slowdown in agricultural productivity growth could signal rising food scarcity, higher commodity prices, and increased competition for the world’s land, water, and energy resources. With such grave consequences, it is more urgent than ever to ensure agricultural productivity growth. This chapter offers a reassessment of that growth at the global level and identifies ways to keep it on the upswing.

What Changed?

World agriculture has undergone some fundamental changes in the past few decades. One has been that many developing countries have greatly expanded their capacities in agricultural research and innovation. Combined with support from international agricultural research centers, this has led to the availability of improved technologies and practices for local farmers. Complementing this have been institutional and policy reforms, improvements in farmer education and health, and investments in rural infrastructure, all of which help create an environment where new farm technologies and practices are adopted more rapidly. Greater productivity growth in developing-country agriculture can certainly pull up the average for global productivity.

A second major development has been the changing location and composition of global agricultural production. With slower agricultural growth in developed countries and a significant reduction in agricultural output from post-Soviet states, developing countries now account for a large and growing share of global agricultural production. And, as rising incomes cause changes in the types of foods consumers demand, the share of staple food commodities in world agricultural production has declined. Two new studies—one published in 2012 and one that is forthcoming—used different methods to estimate trends in agricultural productivity at the global level.2 Both found that the productivity growth rate has actually accelerated in recent decades, led by improved performance in developing countries. It follows, therefore, that future challenges to global food security, apart from long-term risks related to climate change, are more likely to be the result of uneven access to resources, technologies, and food than the world’s ability to increase global agricultural production and food availability in the aggregate.

Box 1

Cutting Consumer Food Waste

Jean C. Buzby

Industrialized countries waste more food per capita than developing countries. For example, in 2007 North America and Europe wasted 95–115 kilograms of food per capita, compared with 6–11 kilograms per capita in Africa south of the Sahara and South and Southeast Asia.1 Few peer-reviewed, published studies provide national food waste estimates, particularly for farm-level losses. Nevertheless, the food waste literature suggests that most of the food waste in industrialized countries occurs at the consumer level (not at the farm level, as in developing countries). Waste also represents lost resources used to produce that food.2 This means that soil is eroded, water sources depleted, and air possibly polluted for food that never even gets consumed.3

It would, of course, be ideal to just generate less waste overall. As a supplemental strategy, the US Environmental Protection Agency’s4 “food recovery hierarchy” suggests that the top priority is to recover or claim wholesome food before it is wasted to feed hungry people by, for example, donating it to local food banks. Using food waste that meets safety standards for livestock, zoo animals, and pets is next in the hierarchy, followed by recycling food and food waste for industrial purposes. Composting food to improve soil fertility is a relatively low priority because the focus is to first make the most of the resource material before returning it to the soil. The last resort should be disposal through landfilling or incineration because of the negative impacts on the environment.

Food waste occurs for many reasons. Many of these causes are similar across industrialized countries (for example, food often spoils when consumers buy more than they need with family-sized packaging or “buy 1, get 1 free” offers), but some factors have greater variation and are less understood (such as food used in cultural traditions). Regardless, food waste at the consumer level is so widespread—occurring every day in millions of households, food-service venues, schools, hospitals, and other institutions worldwide—that interventions will be challenging. Diverting uneaten food to the next best use involves resource and logistical challenges, but perhaps the success story of recycling can provide helpful information.

Understanding where and how much food is wasted and the value of this waste is important information that industries and policymakers can use to raise awareness, reduce food waste, and increase the efficiency of both the farm-to-fork system and food recovery efforts to feed the growing population. Governments may be able to work with the food industry and consumer groups to motivate reductions in food waste at every stage of the food chain.

Jean C. Buzby is an economist in the Food Economics Division of the US Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service in Washington, DC.

1 - J. Gustavsson, C. Cederberg, U. Sonesson, R. van Otterdijk, and A. Meybeck, Global Food Losses and Food Waste: Extent, Causes and Prevention (Rome: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, 2011).[Back]
2 - R. J. Hodges, J. C. Buzby, and B. Bennett, “Postharvest Losses and Waste in Developed and Developing Countries: Opportunities to Improve Resource Use,” Journal of Agricultural Sciences 191, S1 (2010): 37–45. [Back]
3 - J. C. Buzby and J. Hyman, “Total and Per Capita Value of Food Loss in the United States,” Food Policy 37 (2012): 561–571.[Back]
4 - Environmental Protection Agency, Basic Information about Food Waste (Washington, DC, 2012).[Back]

A Shifting Agricultural Supply

World agricultural production grew at an average annual rate of 2.4 percent between 2001 and 2010, close to its historical average growth rate since the 1970s of 2.3 percent per year. However, recent years demonstrate a period of accelerated growth that started around 1995, which, in turn, followed more than 20 years of gradually decreasing growth rates (Figure 2).

Figure 2 - Evolution of the annual growth rate of global agriculture, 1970–2010

Source: Elaborated by authors using data from FAOSTAT, accessed May 2012. Download a larger version of Figure 2

The exceptionally slow growth observed in the 1990s reflected a sharp contraction in agricultural production in the former Soviet bloc, but the trend of declining agricultural growth in the decades prior to 1995 also includes a slowing of growth in some high-income countries, especially in Western Europe and Japan.

This slowing of growth in high-income and transition economies of the former Soviet bloc has led to a major geographic shift in where agricultural production takes place globally (Figure 3). In 1965, 56 percent of total agricultural output was produced in those same countries, although they only comprised 33 percent of the world’s population at that time. Developing countries, on the other hand, with 76 percent of the world population, produced just 44 percent of total agricultural output. By 2010, the same high-income and transition economies produced 32 percent of global agricultural output and held 21 percent of world population. Developing countries accounted for 68 percent of global agricultural output, with East, Southeast, and South Asia contributing 44 percent (and comprising 52 percent of world population), and Latin America, Africa, and West Asia contributing the remaining 24 percent of global agricultural output (and comprising 27 percent of world population).

Figure 3 - Share of total agricultural production, by regions and groups of countries

Source: Elaborated by authors using data from FAOSTAT, accessed May 2012. Notes: LAC = Latin America and the Caribbean; SSA = Africa south of the Sahara; WANA = West Asia and North Africa. Download a larger version of Figure 3

Within developing regions, Northeast Asia (dominated by China) has sustained agricultural growth rates averaging more than 4 percent per year since 1971 (Table 1). Southeast Asia, West Asia and North Africa, and Latin America and the Caribbean also achieved rapid growth in agricultural output, at around 3 percent per year, while agricultural growth in Africa south of the Sahara averaged significantly lower (2.4 percent per year).

Table 1 - Average annual growth rates of agriculture, by region (%)

Source: Elaborated by authors using data from FAOSTAT, accessed May 2012.
Notes: LAC = Latin America and the Caribbean; SSA = Africa south of the Sahara; WANA = West Asia and North Africa. Download a larger version of Table 1

In the 1980s, about half of the total growth in global agriculture came from East, Southeast, and South Asia, a contribution that reached 70 percent in the 1990s and 60 percent in the 2000s. High-income and transition countries contributed about 30 percent of the growth in global agricultural supply in the 1980s, but this fell to practically zero in the 1990s (with negative growth in the transition countries during this decade) before recovering to about a 10 percent share of global agricultural growth in the 2000s. The im-portance of Latin America and the Caribbean has increased over time, and, in the 2000s, the region accounted for nearly 17 percent of the growth in global agriculture.

In addition to the shifting location of agricultural production, changes have occurred in its composition (Figure 4). While the share of livestock products (meat, milk, eggs, hides, and wool) in total agricultural output has remained stable (around 37 percent from 1970 to 2009), the share of cereal grains has fallen significantly (from 25 to 21 percent of the total). Meanwhile, production of horticultural and oil crops has grown rapidly, with the share of total output from fruits and vegetables rising from 16 to 22 percent and oil crops from 6 to 8 percent over the same period. The changing composition of global agricultural output reflects changes in the types of foods consumers are demanding. With rising per capita incomes, especially in developing countries, demand is shifting from staple food grains to more vegetables and fruits, vegetable oils, and animal products (and the protein-rich animal-feed meals provided by oilseeds as a co-product from crushing). Cereal grains, however, continue to supply 70–80 percent of the total caloric supply available for food, animal feed, and biofuel manufacturing.

Figure 4 - Composition of total global agricultural output

Source: Elaborated by authors using data from FAOSTAT, accessed May 2012. Download a larger version of Figure 4

The shifting location of world agricultural production to developing countries and the changing composition of agricultural output toward more horticultural and oil crops have significant implications for global trends in agricultural productivity. Increasingly, raising average global yields in crops and livestock relies on raising yields in developing countries. And moving production from relatively low-valued cereal crops to higher-valued horticultural crops can imply a rise in economic efficiency; by reallocating resources to produce commodities with greater value, farmers may improve productivity and income.

Box 2

Reducing Postharvest Losses

Nancy Morgan, Adam Prakash and Hansdeep Khaira

As global efforts are underway to ensure adequate and sustainably produced food for more than 9 billion people by 2050, the issue of postharvest losses has come to the forefront of the policy arena. These losses can occur for any number of reasons, including crop damage, spillage during transport, and biodeterioration during storage. Investing in ways to reduce these losses is a triple-win that would mean (1) improved food security, (2) greater food availability that alleviates pressure on prices, and (3) conserved valuable land, water, and labor resources.

Postharvest losses are clearly widespread, but quantifying total amounts is challenging; estimates—some as high as 50 percent—vary drastically from product to product, from system to system, and at different points along the supply chain. Similarly, the identification of what caused a loss—for instance, poor harvesting, inadequate storage, insufficient remuneration, or poor transport—is critical to determining the appropriate entry points for interventions.

The African Postharvest Losses Information System indicates that grain losses prior to processing in Africa south of the Sahara average between 10 and 20 percent. These losses are highly significant: if extrapolated for 2005–2007, they amount to nearly US$4 billion per year out of the estimated US$27 billion averaged overall production value.1 This is on par with the US$3–7 billion in cereal that Africa imported annually between 2000 and 2007. If these losses were recuperated, they would allow 48 million people to consume the minimum 2,500 calories per day for a year. Similarly, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations estimates that approximately 1.3 billion tons of food are lost or wasted each year worldwide. In developing countries, per capita losses mainly occur at the production-to-retail nexus at around 120 kilograms per person in South and Southeast Asia and 200 kilograms per person in Latin America.2

By better understanding the magnitude of consequences brought about by postharvest losses along the food chain, we can leverage policies to improve food security, alleviate poverty, and sustain the environment. Filling in the data gap should be strategically complemented by interventions that range from using hermetically sealed bags and metallic silos to organizing producer associations that coordinate suppliers along the value chain. While these technologies and practices have proved useful, adoption rates in developing countries remain low. Identifying why requires an evaluation of failures and successes in the field, and an inclusive community of governments, practitioners, and donors can make that happen by sharing lessons and good practices. We need a revitalized approach for economically appropriate and socially relevant postharvest innovations that can be scaled up and used to inform national investment programs.

Nancy Morgan is a senior economist at the World Bank in Washington, DC. Adam Prakash and Hansdeep Khaira are statisticians at the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations in Rome.

1 - World Bank and FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations), Missing Food: The Case of Postharvest Grain Losses in Sub-Saharan Africa (Washington, DC: World Bank, 2011). [Back]
2 - J. Gustavsson, C. Cederberg, U. Sonesson, R. van Otterdijk, and A. Meybeck, Global Food Losses and Food Waste: Extent, Causes and Prevention (Rome: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, 2011). [Back]

Drives of Growth: The Role of Total Factor Productivity

Total factor productivity (TFP) measures the ratio of total commodity output (the sum of all crop and livestock products) to total inputs used in production, including all land, labor, capital, and materials. If total output is growing faster than total inputs, this is an improvement in TFP. An increase in TFP implies that more output is being produced from a given bundle of agricultural resources. TFP does not, however, take into account effects on environmental resources from agricultural activities, such as losses to biodiversity, nutrient runoff into water bodies, and greenhouse gas emissions.

Empirically, growth in TFP is generally measured as the difference in growth between outputs and inputs. Methods for measuring TFP differ mainly in the way in which outputs and inputs are aggregated. Figure 5 pro-vides two estimates of long-run TFP growth in the global agricultural economy. One method uses a growth accounting approach (“TFP-growth accounting”) in which inputs are aggregated based on their share of total costs in production.3 The second method uses a Malmquist productivity index estimated using data envelop-ment analysis (“TFP-DEA”), which aggregates inputs weighted by their opportunity cost or relative scarcity in-stead of using the actual market prices of inputs.4 For comparative purposes, Figure 5 also shows long-run trends in the growth rates of agricultural output and land and labor productivity. Land and labor productivity typically show higher rates of growth than TFP because part of the growth in output per worker or output per hectare comes from more intensive use of other inputs, like capital or fertilizers, while TFP nets out the growth in these other inputs.

Figure 5 - Productivity growth rates for global agriculture estimated using partial and total factor productivity measures

Source: Estimated by authors. Notes: TFP-DEA rates are obtained using a Malmquist index and data envelopment analysis approach. TFP-growth accounting is estimated by aggregating inputs based on estimates of their cost share in production. Download a larger version of Figure 5

Both measures of TFP indicate that the average growth rate in global agricultural TFP accelerated between 1971 and 2009 (the latest year for which estimates are available), rising from less than 1 percent per year in the 1970s (according to both studies) to about 1.8 percent annually in 2001–2009 (using the TFP-growth accounting method) and 2.3 percent (using the TFP-DEA method).5 Improvements in land productivity (total output per hectare of agricultural land) have remained fairly steady at about 2 percent per year during the past 40 years while growth in labor productivity has also improved, but more slowly, reaching a rate of more than 2 percent per year only since the 1990s.

How much of the growth in output is due to increased resources, and how much of it is due to improved productivity? After nearly four decades of primarily resource-driven growth, a dramatic shift to productivity-driven increases in global agricultural output began around the early 1990s (Figure 6). Between 1961 and 2009, total resources and inputs grew about 60 percent as fast as growth in total agricultural output, implying that improvement in TFP accounted for only 40 percent of total output growth. But TFP’s contribution to output rose over time, and between 2001 and 2009 it accounted for about 75 percent of the growth in global agricultural production. The contribution of natural resources (including land and water) to output growth has decreased gradually over time while that of input intensification (including the amount of labor, capital, and materials per hectare of land) has fallen sharply.

Figure 6 - Sources of growth in global agricultural production

Source: K. Fuglie, “Productivity Growth and Technology Capital in the Global Agricultural Economy,” in Productivity Growth in Agriculture: An International Perspective, ed. K. Fuglie, S. L. Wang, and V. Eldon Ball (Oxfordshire, England: CAB International, 2012). Download a larger version of Figure 6

Box 3

What Makes African Agriculture Grow?

Peter Hazell

After several decades of disappointing performance, the agricultural sector in Africa south of the Sahara has started to grow more rapidly. Exactly why it has begun to grow, however, and at what pace are points of contention. Reported agricultural growth rates vary depending on the methods and data used and the countries and time periods being evaluated. But generally they show that when measured in constant prices, agricultural gross domestic product (GDP) grew by between 2 and 3 percent per year from 1950 through 1999. This rate is consistent with estimates of the growth rates in agricultural production.

Since the late 1990s, Africa’s agricultural GDP growth rate has been estimated to have increased by anywhere from 3 to 12 percent per year. Why such a wide variation? The global commodity price boom and higher inflation in the 2000s (and the way analysts account for those changes) had a big impact on estimates of the underlying agricultural growth rate. During 2000–2010, Africa’s agricultural GDP grew by 12 percent per year in actual prices, 3.6 percent per year in constant prices, and 7.7 percent per year using the real increase in agricultural prices (that is, actual prices deflated by a cost-of-living index).1 This higher estimate is closer to the 6 percent growth in real agricultural GDP reported during a similar period.2 The lower estimate of 3.6 percent is consistent with estimates of the growth in agricultural production.

An increase from 2–3 percent to 3–4 percent in the annual growth rate of real agricultural GDP is not to be discounted, however, especially given the long period of neglect in agricultural investment that preceded it. For Africa to slash poverty and become food secure, the New Partnership for Africa’s Development has targeted a 6 percent annual growth rate, so the faster the growth, the better. But, what’s driving this faster growth?

In the past, most agricultural growth in Africa came from greater land and labor use, but the productivity (or incremental gain in production per unit of input used) of these and other factors (for example, fertilizers and improved seeds) remained low or declined. This pattern has now changed, with several studies reporting that factor productivity growth began to emerge as a more important driver of agricultural growth after the mid-1980s. Many of these gains were brought about by more efficient use of key factors following policy reforms in the 1980s and 1990s, whereas gains from improved technologies remain modest. This presents a challenge for future agricultural growth since the policy reforms have now run their course, and the opportunities to bring new land into farming are more limited, especially in many populous countries. Future agricultural growth will increasingly depend on technological change, which will require greater investment in agricultural research and development, rural infrastructure, and education.

1 - A. Nin-Pratt, M. Johnson, and B. Yu, Improved Performance of Agriculture in Africa South of the Sahara: Taking Off or Bouncing Back, IFPRI Discussion Paper 1224 (Washington, DC: IFPRI, 2012). [Back]
2 - O. Badiane, Sustaining and Accelerating Africa’s Agricultural Growth Recovery in the Context of Changing Global Food Prices, IFPRI Policy Brief 9 (Washington, DC: IFPRI, 2008). [Back]

Peter Hazell is an independent researcher and former division director at the International Food Policy Research Institute.

Where Agricultural Productivity is Growing and Why

Annual growth-rate estimates for land, labor, and total factor productivity are disaggregated among global regions in Table 2. Although the trends are hardly uniform, three general patterns are evident.

Table 2 - Annual growth rates for land, labor, and total factor productivity, by region (%)

Source: Elaborated by authors using data from FAOSTAT, accessed May 2012.
Notes: LAC = Latin America and the Caribbean; SSA = Africa south of the Sahara; WANA = West Asia and North Africa. Download a larger version of Table 2

  1. In high-income countries, the total amount of resources used in agriculture has been falling since about 1980. TFP growth offset the declining resource base to keep output from falling. TFP growth has remained robust overall but has slowed in some countries such as Australia and the United Kingdom. Labor productivity has been rising much faster than land productivity as the agricultural labor force in these countries declined and average farm size increased.
  2. In developing regions, TFP growth saw substantial acceleration in 2001–2009 compared with 1971–2009. China and Brazil have sustained high TFP growth during the past two decades, and Southeast Asia, West Asia and North Africa, and Latin America and the Caribbean also demonstrated accelerated TFP growth in the 2000s. Africa south of the Sahara is the major exception, with long-run TFP growth staying below 1 percent per year.
  3. In transition countries, the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991 imparted a major shock to agriculture. As they began the transition from centrally planned to market-oriented economies, agricultural resources sharply contracted and output fell. Since about 2001, however, output has begun to expand again, and it appears to be led by improvements in productivity. TFP growth, which was practically nonexistent during the Soviet era, has taken off since 2001.

New research has measured agricultural TFP growth not only for most countries, but also for various states and provinces within large countries, namely for Australia, Brazil, China, Indonesia, and the United States.6 This work shows that productivity is highly variable not only across regions and countries but within them as well (Figure 7). In China, TFP growth has been very strong in coastal provinces but less so in the interior. Coastal states of Brazil have also experienced robust agricultural productivity growth. But unlike China, high TFP growth is also evident in some parts of Brazil’s interior—like Mato Grosso in the Cerrado, now the main soybean- and cotton-producing state in the country. In Indonesia, productivity growth has been concentrated in the western and northern regions of the country—Sumatra and Kalimantan, especially—where export commodities like oil palm have been booming. In contrast, TFP growth has been low or stagnant in Java and the eastern provinces. This is a sharp departure from the Green Revolution decades of the 1970s and 1980s, which disproportionately benefited irrigated rice production, an activity that is especially important in Java. In the United States, productivity growth has been moderately strong in agriculturally important areas such as the Corn Belt and the Great Lakes but low in the Great Plains, Appalachia, and major horticultural producers such as California and Florida. In Australia, broadacre (dryland) agricultural TFP has stagnated, primarily affecting the eastern and southern portions of the country.

Figure 7 - Average growth rate in agricultural productivity since the mid-1990s

Source: K. Fuglie, “Productivity Growth and Technology Capital in the Global Agricultural Economy,” in Productivity Growth in Agriculture: An International Perspective, ed. K. Fuglie, S. L. Wang, and V. Eldon Ball (Oxfordshire, England: CAB International, 2012). Note: Growth rates are annual averages from 1995 to 2007 or 2009, depending on data availability. Download a larger version of Figure 7

Figure 7 also points to improved productivity growth performance in some African countries south of the Sahara since the mid-1990s. While a few raised their agricultural TFP growth to at least 1 percent per year, others (such as Angola) were simply recovering from earlier decades when they were at war. Africa south of the Sahara continues to face perhaps the biggest challenge in achieving sustained, long-term productivity growth in its agricultural sector. It is also the region of the world with the highest rates of poverty and food insecurity, and with the highest population growth rates projected for the coming decades.

Box 4

Agricultural R&D: Spending Speeds Up

Nienke Beintema, Gert-Jan Stads, Keith Fuglie, and Paul Heisey

Systematic data on agricultural research and development (R&D) spending are greatly needed to identify areas where investment can lead to increased agricultural productivity and, ultimately, greater food security. IFPRI’s Agricultural Science and Technology Indicators initiative collects this type of data and reported in its 2012 Global Assessment of Agricultural R&D Spending that between 2000 and 2008 (the latest year for which data are available) these R&D investments were on an upswing.1

Following a decade of slowing growth in the 1990s, global public spending on agricultural R&D increased steadily from $26.1 billion in 2000 to $31.7 billion in 2008.2 Most of this growth was driven by developing countries while growth in high-income countries stalled; the increased spending in the former was largely driven by positive trends in a number of larger, more advanced middle-income countries (see figure in this box). China and India together accounted for close to half of the global increase of $5.6 billion. Other middle-income countries—particularly Argentina, Brazil, Iran, Nigeria, and Russia—also significantly increased their spending on public agricultural R&D during this period. These trends mask the negative developments that have taken place in numerous smaller, poorer, and more technologically challenged countries, which are often highly vulnerable to severe volatility in funding and subsequently see the continuity and viability of their research programs deteriorate. Many R&D agencies in these countries also lack the necessary human, operating, and infrastructural resources to successfully develop, adapt, and disseminate science-and-technology innovations.

Private investment in agricultural R&D also increased between 2000 and 2008—from $14.4 billion to $18.2 billion—and most of this R&D was carried out by companies in high-income countries. However, many of these companies have experiment stations in developing countries for the purpose of transferring new, proprietary technologies to those markets. Information on private-sector involvement in developing countries remains limited, but evidence suggests significant growth in large middle-income countries.

The combination of long-term sustainable government funding and a supportive policy environment has fueled increased agricultural productivity, as well as overall economic growth, in the world’s more advanced developing countries, such as Brazil and China. Governments in the world’s poorest countries need to make similar commitments or they will fall even farther behind.3

Global Public Agricultural R&D Spending, 2000–2008

Source: Agricultural Science and Technology Indicators, ASTI Global Assessment of Agricultural R&D Spending: Developing Countries Accelerate Investment (Washington, DC: International Food Policy Research Institute, 2012). Note: PPP = purchasing power parity. Download a larger version of this Figure

1 - N. Beintema, G-J. Stads, K. Fuglie, and P. Heisey, ASTI Global Assessment of Agricultural R&D Spending: Developing Countries Accelerate Investment (International Food Policy Research Institute, Washington, DC, 2012).[Back]
2 - All monetary values are measured in 2005 purchasing power parity (PPP) dollars.[Back]
3 - Please see “ASTI” in the “Food Policy Indicators” section of this book for details on definitions and country- and regional-level data. [Back]

Nienke Beintema is the head of the International Food Policy Research Institute’s Agricultural Science & Technology Indicators (ASTI) initiative. Gert-Jan Stads is ASTI’s program coordinator. Keith Fuglie is the chief of the Resource, Environmental, and Science Policy (RESP) Branch at the US Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service (USDA-ERS) in Washington, DC. Paul Heisey is a senior economist in the RESP Branch of the USDA-ERS.

Prospects and Future Challenges

The development and adoption of improved farm technologies and practices has allowed food to become more abundant even as the population has grown and agricultural land has become scarcer. Advances in microbiology, information, and other sciences are opening up new avenues for further improving agricultural productivity. As long as public and private investments in agricultural research and development are sufficient to translate these scientific advances into practical technologies for the many diverse farming environments and commodities worldwide, and as long as farmers can gain access to these technologies as well as markets for their produce, prospects seem bright for continued growth in global agricultural productivity.7 Looking several decades ahead, the effects of a changing climate greatly increase uncertainties for agriculture and give further impetus to maintain and strengthen global capacities in agricultural science and technology.

Since the 1960s, long-term productivity growth in developing-country agriculture has been guided by three main pillars: (1) development of national capacities in agricultural research and innovation, (2) support from international public research centers and the private sector that provides better genetic materials and modern inputs, and (3) creation of an enabling environment for the rapid adoption of new technologies, including rural institutions that provide financial and educational services, rural infrastructure that improves access to markets, and economic and trade policies that allow markets to signal resource allocation.8 Although productivity growth in developing-country agriculture remains uneven, many developing countries can still experience large leaps in productivity by using these pillars of growth, which were the foundation of the Green Revolution.

As in the past, achieving food security for all of the world’s people requires more than raising agricultural productivity at the global level. Instead, improving livelihoods—especially for poor farmers with very low productivity—means giving them better access to resources, technologies, and food. Regions that have lagged behind the agricultural technology frontier, such as much of Africa south of the Sahara, have remained mired in poverty and food insecurity. Countries in these regions could follow the examples of agricultural success stories like Brazil and China, which invested heavily in agricultural research, made critical reforms to policies and institutions, and tapped into international sources of agricultural technology to raise productivity, lower food prices, and stimulate economic growth. When a country’s population shares broadly in these developments, it can have a major impact on lowering poverty and improving societal well-being.

1 - S. Zhao, Y. Sheng, and E. M. Gray, “Measuring Productivity of the Australian Broadacre and Dairy Industries: Concepts, Methodology and Data” and S. L. Wang, D. Schimmelpfennig, and K. Fuglie, “Is Agricultural Productivity Growth Slowing in Western Europe?” in Productivity Growth in Agriculture: An International Perspective, ed. K. Fuglie, S. L. Wang, and V. Eldon Ball (Oxfordshire, England: CAB International, 2012).[Back]
2 - K. O. Fuglie and S. L. Wang, “New Evidence Points to Robust but Uneven Productivity Growth in Global Agriculture,” Amber Waves 10 (September 2012); A. Nin-Pratt, Trends in Global Agriculture, IFPRI Discussion Paper (Washington, DC: IFPRI, forthcoming). [Back]
3 - K. Fuglie, “Productivity Growth and Technology Capital in the Global Agricultural Economy,” in Productivity Growth in Agriculture: An International Perspective, ed. K. Fuglie, S. L. Wang, and V. Eldon Ball (Oxfordshire, England: CAB International, 2012).[Back]
4 - A. Nin-Pratt, Trends in Global Agriculture.[Back]
5 - K. Fuglie, S. L. Wang, and V. Eldon Ball, ed., Productivity Growth in Agriculture: An International Perspective (Oxfordshire, England: CAB International, 2012).[Back]
6 - A. Nin-Pratt, “Technological Change and the Transformation of Global Agriculture: From Biotechnology and Gene Revolution to Nano Revolution,” in Nanotechnology and Microelectronics: Global Diffusion, Economics and Policy, ed. N. Ekekwe (Hershey, Pennsylvania, US: Information Science Reference, IGI Global, 2010).[Back]
7 - Fuglie and Wang, “New Evidence Points to Robust but Uneven Productivity Growth in Global Agriculture”; Nin-Pratt, Trends in Global Agriculture.[Back]
8 - R. E. Evenson and D. Gollin, “Assessing the Impact of the Green Revolution: 1960–1980,” Science 300, no. 5620 (2003): 758–762, doi:10.1126/science.1078710; R. E. Evenson and M. Rosegrant, “The Economic Consequences of Crop Genetic Improvement Programs,” in Crop Variety Improvement and Its Effect on Productivity: The Impact of International Agricultural Research, ed. R. E. Evenson and D. Gollin (Wallingford, England: CAB International, 2003), doi:10.1079/9780851995496.0473; P. Pingali, “Will the Gene Revolution Reach the Poor? Lessons from the Green Revolution” (Mansholt Lecture, Wageningen University, Germany, January 26, 2007); P. Pingali and P. W. Heisey, “Cereal-Crop Productivity in Developing Countries: Past Trends and Future Prospects,” in Agricultural Science Policy, ed. J. M. Alston, P. G. Pardey, and M. Taylor (Washington, DC: IFPRI and Johns Hopkins University Press, 2001).[Back]

Keith Fuglie is the chief of the Resource, Environmental, and Science Policy (RESP) Branch at the US Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service (USDA-ERS) in Washington, DC. Alejandro Nin-Pratt is a research fellow in the Development Strategy and Governance Division of the International Food Policy Research Institute in Washington, DC. The views expressed in this chapter are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the USDA-ERS.