4 + 6.5 + 4.7 = 15.2: is that all it will take?


Uma Lele (CoSAI) and Mark W. Rosegrant (IFPRI)

Increasing public and private investment in agricultural research and innovation by only USD 4 billion per year would achieve SDG2 in East Asia, South Asia, and Latin American and the Caribbean, and reduce the risk of hunger from 24.3% to 11.8% of the population in sub-Saharan Africa. This is one of the insights from a new report from the Commission on Sustainable Agriculture Intensification (CoSAI) and Transforming Agricultural Innovation for People, Nature and Climate campaign, undertaken by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI).

Within this USD 4 billion investment, if USD 2.1 billion was spent on international public research, it would prevent climate change from pushing 66 million more people into risk of hunger in 2030. The modeling suggests that in addition to having significant impacts on hunger and reduced emissions, there would be a slowing of land use change by 2030.

The study explored how sustainable agriculture intensification can meet future food demand while simultaneously supporting climate action under the Paris Agreement and development in the Global South. To do this, IFPRI modeled future scenarios to estimate the global ‘investment gap’ in public and private spending on innovation in the Global South. The model focused on the areas of greatest need, and highlighted areas with the greatest potential for returns.

The report shows that by investing more in agricultural innovation – from R&D through to scaling, policy making, institutions and infrastructure – agricultural systems can become more efficient, productive and sustainable, forming part of the solution in addressing the climate crisis. In doing so agriculture will support the pressing hunger, climate and water objectives of the coming decades.

Benefit from a boost to the global economy

There are also strong economic reasons for higher investment in agricultural research and innovation. Spending USD 4 billion more each year on R&D would boost the gross domestic product of countries in the Global South by USD 1.7 trillion a year by 2030, and by USD 9.1 trillion a year by 2050, a significant return on investment. Another benefit would be a 16% drop in the prices of major food crops by 2030, relative to business as usual, making nutritious food more affordable to households globally.

Start with USD 4 billion a year to reduce the risk of hunger

For maximum effectiveness, the USD 4 billion per year of additional investment in agriculture research and innovation needs to be balanced across national and international, public and private research, which are the major contributors to current innovation investment in the Global South. Without filling this gap in a balanced way, attempts to reduce the risk of hunger around the world are likely to fall well short.

Add USD 6.5 billion a year for climate action

The study also makes clear the scale of the challenge posed by climate change. The extra investments in research and innovation will help agriculture cut greenhouse gas emissions, but not enough to fulfill its contribution to the ultimate ambition of the Paris Agreement: keeping global warming within 2°C. To get on that path between now and 2030, agriculture needs a further USD 6.5 billion investment each year in climate-smart technologies at scale that will reduce and sequester emissions. Taking these urgent climate needs into account and ensuring sustainable agriculture investments play their role as part of the solution, the investment gap becomes USD 10.5 billion per year – still only a fraction of the estimated USD 700 billion that is already spent annually on subsidizing global agriculture.

However, the USD 10.5 billion in investments cannot alone bring agricultural emissions in line with 2°C of warming. A remaining wild card is land use change. With a growing population requiring more conversion of land to farmland, the study estimates that agriculturally induced deforestation will not be halted by 2050 – but innovation will at least slow the rate at which forest is lost. In addition to the R&D and climate-smart investments, it is suggested that zero land use change from agriculture must be achieved though supporting policies and investments in related sectors.

Invest another USD 4.7 billion a year to save water and nutrients

The over-use of water is also a serious consideration, targeted for action by Sustainable Development Goal 6. The study suggests an additional USD 4.7 billion each year could lower agricultural water use by 10% in less than a decade. Meanwhile, the R&D and climate-smart investments would have the bonus effect of reducing agricultural nitrogen pollution by 21% and phosphorous pollution by 14%.

A rapidly expanding population, increasing pressure on our finite resources, a changing climate, and the ever-present threat of global vulnerability from pandemics and financial instability means action with targeted environmental and social objectives is urgent. The evidence shows that by filling the annual USD 15.2 billion funding gap, the global community has the capacity to reduce some of these instabilities, address the current problems facing our global population, and foster a sustainable future for generations to come. The time to sustainably invest is now.

Find out more about the investment gap study here.

The views expressed in this blog are those of an individual Commissioner and are not necessarily supported by CoSAI.