By Alice Marks
Skimming the eye across the colourful chart of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), it is easy to spot a couple which are intrinsically and directly linked to agriculture, but a closer look reveals that they are in fact all linked to agriculture. A healthy global agricultural sector underpins and supports so many aims of the SDGs that its development will be important for their overall success. As sustainable agriculture is essential for sustainable food systems and livelihoods, here is a breakdown of how agriculture, farming and nutrition fit into the first 7 goals
1. No Poverty
Over 70% of the world’s poorest people live in rural areas, and rely heavily on agriculture for their survival and livelihoods. According to the World Bank, evidence shows that GDP growth generated in agriculture has large benefits for the poor, and is at least twice as effective in reducing poverty as growth generated by other sectors. Particularly with investment and growth of sustainable value chains, agriculture can help to lift people out of poverty.
2. Zero Hunger
SDG2 is specifically aimed at agriculture. It aims to “End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture.” The challenges of food and nutrition security in the face of population growth and climate change can be met using sustainable intensification (SI), a series of integrated and mutually-reinforcing practices and innovations from the fields of genetics, ecology and socio-economics. For more information, the Agriculture for Impact SI Database has more than 80 case studies which explore SI.
3. Good Health and Well-Being
Nutrition underpins good health, which is why farmers need to produce high-quality, nutritious food for rural and urban communities alike. This is particularly important for pregnant women and babies, since the first 1,000 days can mean the difference between a promising future and one plagued by poor health and stunted growth. According to the World Food Program (WFP), globally around 50% of child deaths are attributed to malnutrition, while 200 million children are chronically malnourished and suffer from serious physical and cognitive damage. In order to ensure a healthy global population the agriculture sector must be able to produce enough nutritious food. Supporting infrastructure and policies are also important to ensure that everyone also has access to nutritionally diverse foods to meet this goal.
4. Quality Education
According to the FAO, nearly 60% of child labour – that is 98 million boys and girls worldwide – happens in agriculture. This limits the ability of child labourers to attend school and develop the skills they need to build a better future. While several countries, such as Tanzania, Kenya, Ghana and Ethiopia, offer free primary education for children, there are usually other costs associated with sending children to school that can be prohibitive for poor families. For example, in Tanzania so-called ‘mandatory contributions’, but can cost more than 18,000 Tanzanian shillings (£5.79) per child per year. However better investments in farming can in turn lead to higher incomes, thus enabling families to more easily afford these expenses. In addition, WFPs School Feeding Programs source food for school meals from local farmers, driving up business for farmers and the daily school meal provides a strong incentive to send children, especially girls, to school and keep them there.
5. Gender Equality
According to the ASFG, women make up around 50% of the agricultural workforce in sub-Saharan Africa, and in some countries almost 60%. However, women and girls face a range of gender-specific constraints, such as lack of access to resources and land rights. As a result women produce up to 25% less than their male counterparts. However, if women have the same access to productive resources as men, they could increase yields on their farms by 20–30% and raise total agricultural output by 2.5–4%. This could reduce the number of hungry people in the world by 100 – 150 million people.
6. Clean Water and Sanitation
According to Farming First, by 2030 global water demand will increase by more than 50%, and the agriculture sector alone will require more water than is sustainable. Approximately 70% of the world’s poor live in rural areas reliant on rain-fed agriculture to sustain their livelihoods and an estimated 200 million people in sub-Saharan African (18% of the population) face serious water shortages, with a changing climate likely to increase the pressure on the already scarce resources. Because of these challenges, efficient use of water in agriculture, such as drip irrigation and planting pit techniques, will become increasingly important.
7. Affordable and Clean Energy
The global energy demand is predicted to increase as much as 50%, with the majority of demand coming from developing countries, particularly in the face of rapid urbanisation and the growing middle class. Food crops, such as wheat, soy, palm oil, rapeseed and maize may be diverted for use as biofuels to meet the growing demand, which may add additional pressure to an already-stretched food supply, while adding the risk of smallholders losing land to biofuel corporations. However, biofuels could offer opportunities for farmers and farmer cooperatives to commercially engage in the growing bio-energy market, if managed in a sustainable and pro-poor way.
8. Decent work and Economic Growth
In the discussion above about SDG1, we saw how agriculture can help to grow economies with particular benefits to the poorest in rural areas. Furthermore, engaging in agricultural value chains and better access to markets can help to generate employment and economic growth for both rural communities and the urban areas they surround. Agricultural cooperatives can also help farmers to achieve better working conditions and gain access to education and training as well as wielding more bargaining power, thus negotiating better prices for the members. Furthermore, in evidence for the 2015 UK International Development Committee inquiry on jobs and livelihoods, Gordon Conway explained that “Africa could easily become the substitute for China as a low‑cost economic developing country with industrialisation. In the meantime, we certainly need to build food security, partly to feed all those workers who are going to go into the industrial sector, but also because there is a growing demand for more food, more varied food and more livestock food…” and rural economies have an opportunity to capitalize on this demand.
For more information on how agriculture is linked to the rest of the SDG’s, stay tuned for next week’s blog which will explore how goals 9-17, including innovation and infrastructure, reducing inequality, sustainable cities, and climate action.