Investing USD 15.2 billion more in innovation will bring food, climate and water goals into reach

IWMI: Petterik Wiggers

Colombo, August 13, 2021

If the Global South is going to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), help stabilize global warming at well below 2°C, and protect its water resources, agriculture must innovate. Investing USD 15.2 billion more in innovation every year will bring a number of critical goals into reach and have life-changing benefits, according to a report from the Commission on Sustainable Agriculture Intensification (CoSAI) and the Transforming Agricultural Innovation for People, Nature and Climate campaign.

The path-setting investment gap study was carried out by a team of researchers led by Dr. Mark Rosegrant at the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI). Their estimate is based on an advanced model of future investment scenarios.

Dr. Uma Lele, CoSAI Commissioner and President Elect of the International Association of Agricultural Economists, said: “This sophisticated piece of modeling work shows that well-placed investment in innovation could supercharge sustainable development and climate action in agriculture. Zero hunger could be in reach in many parts of the world, we will see globally significant reductions in emissions, and the Global South will reap the economic benefits.”

The challenges for the modeled scenarios are many. Agriculture must keep up with demand as the world’s population rises past 9 billion by 2050. It must do so as global warming makes it harder to grow food in many areas. And it must do so using fewer inputs and less land, if we are to save precious water, reduce emissions and reverse deforestation.

In the model, however, scenarios with an additional USD 15.2 billion per year in investment tipped the scales for agriculture – and for humanity. This sum is just a fraction of the estimated USD 700 billion that governments already spend to subsidize farming each year. It would include carefully targeted investment in agricultural research and development (R&D) and the scaling up of solutions across the Global South.

Among the findings of the investment gap study:

  • An additional USD 2 billion a year in international public R&D can offset climate change’s impact on hunger, protecting 66 million people from being pushed into risk of hunger by climate change by 2030.
  • Alternatively, an additional USD 4 billion a year in national public R&D, private R&D, and higher research efficiency can help food systems approach the SDG2 ‘zero hunger’ goal in the Global South by 2030. Meanwhile, R&D can reduce agricultural nitrogen pollution by 21% and phosphorous pollution by 14%.
  • A further USD 6.5 billion a year in climate-smart technical mitigation options can reduce and sequester emissions in farming on a path to less than 2°C of global warming.
  • A further USD 4.7 billion a year for water solutions can lower agricultural water use by 10% in under a decade.

By 2030, these combined investments would put SDG2 (zero hunger), SDG6 (clean water and sanitation), SDG13 (climate action) and the Paris Agreement back on track. That will be an urgent course correction after the disruptions of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The results show, however, that more transformational policies and investments will be needed to reverse deforestation and boost carbon sequestration, especially beyond 2030. The modeled investments slow the expansion of land use for agriculture, but they are not sufficient to halt farming-driven deforestation and grassland conversion. Net zero land use change for agriculture by 2050 is an important element of stabilizing global warming at below 2°C and halting the collapse of biodiversity.

On the positive side, the study finds that the additional USD 4 billion a year in R&D investments would increase economic activity in countries in the Global South by USD 1.7 trillion a year by 2030. By 2050, this economic boost would rise to USD 9.1 trillion a year – a truly enormous return on innovation investment. It would also see the prices of major food crops fall by over 16% relative to business as usual in 2030. More affordable foods will benefit households in the Global South and North alike.

Recognizing the enormous benefits for global goals and economies should spur action from a whole range of investors. National governments, development partners, and private investors and funds will all need to join forces and make the right investments with the right targets to achieve the promise of agricultural innovation.

The full report, Estimating the global investment gap in research and innovation for sustainable agriculture intensification in the Global South, was published by CoSAI on August 13, 2021.

Notes to Editors

Commission on Sustainable Agriculture Intensification (CoSAI)

The Commission on Sustainable Agriculture Intensification (CoSAI) brings together 21 Commissioners to influence public and private support to innovation in order to rapidly scale up sustainable agriculture intensification in the Global South. For CoSAI, innovation means the development and uptake of new ways of doing things – in policy, social institutions and finance, as well as in science and technology. CoSAI was initiated and is supported by the CGIAR Research Program on Water, Land and Ecosystems (WLE), funded by the CGIAR Trust Fund and other donors. CoSAI Commissioners are independent. CoSAI is facilitated by a Secretariat based at the International Water Management Institute (IWMI) headquarters in Colombo, Sri Lanka.

Transforming Agricultural Innovation for People, Nature and Climate campaign

Transforming Agricultural Innovation for People, Nature and Climate’ is a global campaign that calls for half of all public investment in agricultural research to focus on innovations that provide new solutions across our food systems to meet the UN Global Goals. Co-chaired by the UK Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) and the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture & Food Security (CCAFS), the campaign is driven by voluntary pledges from partner organizations and climate champions

International Food Policy Research Institute

The International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) provides research-based policy solutions to sustainably reduce poverty and end hunger and malnutrition in developing countries. Established in 1975, IFPRI currently has more than 600 employees working in over 50 countries. It is a research center of CGIAR, a worldwide partnership engaged in agricultural research for development.

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