Meat & Livestock News

Tough Task Ahead for Global Agriculture


  • Global agriculture faces the triple challenge of enhancing sustainability, boosting productivity, and maintaining profitability.
  • Despite a global decrease in agriculture’s carbon intensity, the need for significant productivity improvements remains to combat rising hunger levels.
  • Future agricultural growth is expected to come from Africa and India, focusing on productivity rather than expanding land use, amidst rising input costs and the need for a robust international trading system.

In an era where environmental concerns and food security are paramount, global agriculture is at a crossroads. Dr. Marion Jansen, the OECD’s Director of Trade and Agriculture, recently shared insights at the ABARES Outlook conference in Canberra, highlighting the sector’s pressing challenges and opportunities.

Agricultural producers worldwide are grappling with the need to simultaneously achieve greater sustainability, increase productivity, and ensure economic viability. This balancing act is crucial as the sector strives to reduce its greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions while feeding an ever-growing global population.

Encouragingly, data suggests a global decline in the carbon intensity of agriculture. However, this positive trend is overshadowed by the urgent need for substantial productivity gains. The rise in global hunger, exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, underscores this necessity. Currently, an estimated 780 million people face extreme hunger, a situation aggravated by disparities in dietary protein sources between developed and developing nations.

Looking ahead, the shift towards meat as a primary protein source in lower-income countries, driven by improvements in livestock productivity, poses additional challenges. While Africa is poised to lead future agricultural production through enhanced crop productivity, India is making strides in dairy and meat production. These developments are promising for GHG emissions, yet the overall reduction may not suffice to counteract the sector’s total emissions, with ruminants remaining a significant GHG source.

The path to meeting global food demands and achieving net GHG emission reductions is daunting. It requires tripling the productivity gains of the past decade, a goal Dr. Jansen views as nearly impossible. The volatility of global events, such as the conflict in Ukraine, further complicates matters by driving up input costs, including those for nitrogenous fertiliser, thereby straining farmers’ margins.

Amid these challenges, the preservation of global trade and a rules-based trading system is vital. Such a framework is essential for maintaining nutrient flows to the global population, with trade supplying about 20% of the world’s calories.

As the agricultural sector navigates these hurdles, a concerted effort to address sustainability, productivity, and profitability is imperative, ensuring a stable and fair international trading system remains a cornerstone of global food security.