A recent World Bank report, Revising Public Agricultural Support to Mitigate Climate Change, finds that agriculture subsidies have the potential to address food security and mitigate the impacts of climate change.
Agriculture currently accounts for 25 percent of total global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, according to the Word Research Institute (WRI). But by 2050, the WRI expects the global population to increase by 2.2 million people. Researchers believe this will increase food production by 50 percent and drive up GHG emissions.
According to the World Bank report, a redirection of agriculture subsidies to support more research, innovation, and development, could curb global emissions while also feeding the world.
The report found that from 2014-2016, countries that produced two-thirds of the world’s food provided US$600 billion in agriculture financial support each year. Of this, only five percent went towards conservation efforts and only six percent supported research and technical assistance.
But the pressure to deal with climate change will catalyze the redirection of agriculture subsidies, according to Tim Searchinger, co-author of the World Bank report and a researcher at WRI. “When there are major developments that dramatically change the yields and costs, farmers will change overnight,” he tells Food Tank.
However, opponents of agriculture subsidies argue that government support is geared towards excessive production of certain crops like corn, soybeans and wheat, making the majority of money go towards large farms.
Searchinger agrees but says that redirecting subsidies towards research and development will benefit small farmers and provide a more equitable distribution. The report suggests that governments should restructure subsidies to support efficient fertilizer use, reward conservation efforts, protect land from further clearing, and restore agricultural land no longer in use.
While some existing innovations sustainably boost productivity, Searchinger says that subsidies must also make them more adaptable and affordable. “We need these [innovations] to be adopted easily in other countries too.”
International collaboration is critical, Searchinger says, because many countries face similar agricultural challenges. He believes that global discussions could motivate countries to use subsidies to develop research and innovations.
“People think of agriculture as kind of slow to change and that’s not actually true,” Searchinger tells Food Tank. “If there was a major push for a bunch of technology within five to 10 years, I think we could make a lot of improvements.”