“We have a lot of work ahead” – IFPRI’s 2016 Global Food Policy Repot

By Alice Marks

On March 31st the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) published the 2016 Global Food Policy Report. The report highlights the scale of the challenged faced by the global food system, including that 1/3 of people in the world are malnourished, nearly a billion people go to bed hungry each day, and environmental degradation and climate change will only exacerbate these problems by making global food markets increasingly unstable.

In a previous blog series (part 1/part 2) agriculture’s role in underpinning all of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) was explored. Ahead of the launch of the new report, IFPRI’s director Shenggen Fan explained that to meet the SDG’s by 2030 “We have a lot of work ahead. We must promote and support a new global food system that is efficient, inclusive, climate-smart, sustainable, nutrition- and health-driven, and business-friendly in order to ensure that no one goes to sleep hungry.” Looking through the lens of the global food system, IFPRI’s report highlights several challenges and opportunities to achieving the SDGs, including the changing climate, shifts in diets and food waste, and gender inequality.

Gender inequality

woman credit ifpri

credit: IFPRI, 2016

Women are more vulnerable to food price volatility, climate change, and natural disasters than their male counterparts. The reasons are complex, but in general boil down to a lack of access to resources. For example, try typing “women lack access” into a search engine to see a plethora of issues, including lack of sanitation, safe toilets, clean water, contraception and family planning, business capital, information, education and political participation, to name but a few.

According to the ASFG, women make up around 50% of the agricultural workforce in sub-Saharan Africa, and in some countries almost 60%. Women are discussed throughout IFPRI’s report and in every context because their role in solving all challenges faced by the global food system is so pervasive. For example, their important role in building a nutrition-driven food system, given women’s roles in agricultural production, and as consumers and caregivers. Removing these inequalities and closing the gender gap in agricultural yields could increase developing countries’ agricultural output by between 2.5 and 4.0 percent, cutting the number of undernourished people by 100 – 150 million people.

Climate change

landscape credit ifpri

Credit: IFPRI, 2016

Climate change exacerbates the production challenges faced by smallholders and increases the likelihood of income losses, crop destruction from pests and diseases, and asset depletion. Meanwhile, agriculture is a big contributor to climate change, emitting 13% of total GHG emissions. The 2015 Montpellier Panel report, The Farms of Change: African Smallholders Responding to an Uncertain Climate Future, highlighted that climate change is already a reality for African smallholders. In Africa, agricultural losses will amount to 2% to 7% of GDP by 2100, and child malnutrition could rise by up to 20% by 2050. However, smallholders can have a role in combating climate change, if they have the right training and incentives, and can gain access to the right resources such as education, credit, and markets.

Changing diets

It’s common to hear that there is enough food to feed the world, if only those in need had better access to it. According to the IFPRI report, the number of people who are overweight outnumbers those who are undernourished by 2.5 times. One cause of this change is a growing middle class that demands more meat. Beef is one of the most resource-intensive and environmentally damaging foods, using 7 times more resources than pork or poultry, and 20 times more than pulses. Yet the global demand for beef is projected to increase by 95% between 2006 and 2050.

food waste ifpri

Credit: IFPRI, 2016

Meanwhile, IFPRI estimates that between 27-32%of food produced never makes it to the table. In developing countries, most food is lost after production, so investments in infrastructure, transportation, and packing industries are likely to significantly lower post-harvest loss. In developed countries, most waste is at the retail/consumer level. Any loss and waste of food is indicative of an inefficient and unsustainable system, but the IFPRI report points out that it is rare to find success stories. However, one such solution is better warehousing – see the example of Agroways (U) Ltd. warehouse in Jinja, Uganda. Here, transport, cleaning, drying, grading and storage services are offered to smallholder farmers at affordable prices ensuring that losses are reduced and more produce gets to markets. In the international context, identifying the scale, causes, and cost of food loss and waste across the value chain is likely to be important in order for concrete interventions to take place.

The 2016 Global Food Policy Report describes a global food system riddled weaknesses, but a look at the list of achievements from 2015 does give hope that there are opportunities as well. According to Shenggen Fan, the SDG’s “task us all with the challenge of eradicating hunger and undernutrition in 15 years or less.” As a result, we must hope that the evidence in IFPRI’s report is taken seriously by businesses and governments when they make their policies for the coming years, as we work towards achieving these goals.


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