UN report says reconfiguring agricultural subsidies key to boost sustainability agenda

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A large-scale reconfiguring of agricultural subsidies that is to blame for distorting food prices, harming ecosystems and human health is urgent in order to revitalize the sustainability agenda, says a joint UN report launched on Tuesday.

The report titled “a multi-billion dollar opportunity: Repurposing agricultural support to transform food systems” says that the bulk of 540 billion U.S. dollar support availed to industrial agriculture annually has constrained efforts to achieve food security, human health and environmental sustainability.

Compiled by UN Environment Programme (UNEP), the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and United Nations Development Program (UNDP), the report calls for a review of fiscal incentives for large scale agriculture players in order to address distortions in the food market, limit use of agro-chemicals and promote ecosystems’ health.

“This report, released on the eve of the UN Food Systems Summit, is a wakeup call for governments around the world to rethink agricultural support schemes to make them fit for purpose to transform our agri-food systems and contribute to the Four Betters — Better nutrition, better production, better environment and a better life,” said Qu Dongyu, FAO director-general.

According to the UN report, redirecting agricultural subsidies to pressing needs like research and infrastructure development will achieve most of the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and hasten the realization of the UN decade of ecosystem restoration.

It finds that current support to producers mostly consists of price incentives, such as import tariffs and export subsidies, as well as fiscal subsidies which are tied to the production of a specific commodity.

The report notes that the current support is inefficient, distorts food prices, hurts people’s health and degrades the environment.

It adds that the support is often inequitable, putting big agri-business ahead of smallholder farmers, a large share of whom are women.

Achim Steiner, UNDP Administrator said that policy and financial support for mechanized agriculture should be repurposed and ensure it shifts to a greener, more sustainable direction.

Steiner noted that the approach can improve productivity and environmental outcomes as well as sustainable farming and climate-smart approaches.

He said that the approach can also boost the livelihoods of the 500 million smallholder farmers worldwide by ensuring a level playing field.

Inger Andersen, UNEP executive director said that reconfiguring agricultural subsidies will help address the triple ecological crisis of climate change, biodiversity loss and pollution.

Andersen said that a rapid shift to a more natural, positive, equitable and efficient agricultural support will transform livelihoods, reduce carbon emissions and regenerate ecosystems.

The UN report says that reconfiguring agricultural producer support, rather than eliminating it, will help end poverty, eradicate hunger, achieve food security, improve nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture. Enditem

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