Press Statement

Innovations in technologies, policies, and institutions for a sustainable future

Jun 3, 2016

The following statement by IFPRI Director General Shenggen Fan was delivered on the occassion of the G20 Agriculture Ministers Meeting in Xi’an, China on June 3, 2016.

First, let me commend the G20 Agriculture Ministers for placing top priority on achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), including ending hunger, malnutrition, and extreme poverty.

While the SDGs serve as our guide to global development, creative solutions are what will get us to the finish line on time, if not sooner. Innovations in technologies, policies, and institutions will be key for a new global food system that can achieve multiple SDGs, including the goals related to ending hunger, malnutrition, and poverty.

Our current global food system has several strengths, but it also suffers from a number of weaknesses. On the one hand, it feeds 7 billion people, on the other, it leaves nearly 800 million people hungry and about 2 billion micronutrient deficient. Increasingly, it also contributes to overnutrition—worldwide, almost 2 billion adults are overweight and over 600 million people are obese. Current and emerging trends and challenges, such as population growth and urbanization especially in middle-income countries, increasing food safety risks, land and water constraints, and climate change affect the food system’s ability to deliver nutritious, healthy, and sufficient food for all.

We need to reshape the global food system to produce more and better food in the face of these mix of trends and challenges. To advance a new global food system that is efficient and productive, inclusive, environmentally sustainable and climate-smart, nutrition- and health-driven, and business-friendly, we must embrace innovations that will lead to long-term impacts.

Sustainable intensification—producing more nutritious foods with more efficient use of inputs, resources, and less environmental damage—is an innovative solution that can transform agriculture. IFPRI researchers have identified a number of sustainable intensification technologies and practices that can reduce trade-offs among food security, nutrition, and environmental sustainability goals, and also exploit synergies among them. Such technologies and practices include nitrogen-use efficiency, heat- and drought-tolerant crop varieties, precision agriculture, and drip irrigation. Adopting these innovations can contribute to numerous SDGs, such as those related to clean water and sanitation (SDG 6), decent work and economic growth, especially for smallholders (SDG 8), climate action (SDG 13), and life on land (SDG 15).

While producing more food is important, reducing food loss and waste is just as critical. Globally, one-third of all food produced is lost or wasted at various stages along the value chain, leaving a big environmental footprint—30 percent of agricultural land is devoted to producing food that will never be eaten. In developed countries, where most food is wasted at the retail level, solutions should focus on educating consumers about food purchasing patterns and consumption patterns as well as appearance quality standards. In developing countries, investments in post-harvest technologies, storage facilities, infrastructure (such as roads and electricity), transportation, and packaging are key to reducing food loss. Following last year’s G20 Agriculture Ministers’ Meeting in Turkey, IFPRI and FAO were invited to provide knowledge and best practices in global food loss and waste. We jointly launched the G20 Technical Platform on the Measurement and Reduction of Food Loss and Waste last December, which facilitates local, national and regional level food loss and waste prevention, reduction and measurement.

In this increasingly globalized and interconnected world, the quantity, variety, and frequency of information are growing in various forms and ways. New and emerging information communications technology (ICT) innovations not only assist in collecting data, but also improve measurement, tracking, and monitoring that can accelerate progress in reducing hunger and malnutrition. As such, many emerging tools can revamp the architecture of food security and nutrition information, making data more accessible to often-ignored groups, improve efficiency along the food value chain, and allow better integration across food systems from production to consumption. China’s recently launched e-commerce platform, for example, connects rural farmers with supply and demand information on agricultural produce and materials, and consumer products. IFPRI welcomes the G20 Agriculture Ministers’ invitation to assess existing global agricultural ICT applications and platforms, identify gaps and policy challenges, and work towards developing an Agricultural ICT Exchange Platform.

Innovation in policies is equally important. Policy experimentation supported by evidence-based research provides decision-makers with information on what works before scaling-up successful policies and programs. In China, careful experimentation was vital for the design, sequencing, and implementation of successful reforms that led to large reductions in hunger and undernutrition. Converting input subsidies and price support to income support, and ensuring food prices reflect full costs and benefits of natural resource use are some examples of innovative policies that can help reshape our global food system.

Institutional innovations are also needed to assist vulnerable groups, such as smallholders, women, and youth, gain access to markets and technologies. Promoting smallholder-friendly innovations, such as bundling financial and non-financial services, as well as extension services and risk management mechanisms are some examples. Scaling up productive, cross-sector social protection is just as important. These social safety nets can minimize the potential negative impacts of reducing inefficient subsidies on the poor and vulnerable in the short term, and also offer opportunities for them to escape poverty and food insecurity in the long term.

Reshaping the global food system will require all hands on deck and cooperation from both G20 members and non-members to ensure a well-nourished, healthy population and a planet that can sustain the needs of many generations to come. I applaud the G20 Agriculture Ministers for recognizing the importance of innovative solutions to tackling some of the world’s toughest challenges. Together, we can achieve the SDGs on time, if not sooner. It can be done when ideas are broadly disseminated, when countries learn from each other, and when cooperation for increasingly better solutions sets in—in other words, when a “snowball effect” triggers avalanches in innovations.