Many of the world’s poor live in rural areas and depend on agriculture for their livelihoods, whether as farmers or agricultural labourers. In fact, three quarters of 1.2 billion poorest of the poor (living under $1 per day) are dependent directly or indirectly on agriculture. Other than that, there are other section of people who depend for their livelihoods on providing non-farm goods and services to rural people – ranging from bicycle repairs to cell phone charging and brick making. It is a very basic understanding that the economic health and long-run viability of the rural economy is crucial for the well-being of the world’s poor. Being the prime source of employment, agricultural productivity is probably the single most important factor for a thriving rural economy.
The next decades will however witness a series of challenges ranging from population pressure, water scarcity to climate changes. Limited water resources, excessive use of fertilizers & insecticides or even changing standard of life – the causes for these and other such long-run drivers are varied. However, irrespective to their causes, they will all put stress on the current agricultural system. Unless the governments and policy makers are not equipped with the right information, the situation can spiral out of control very fast.
For example, there is a general consensus that the world will face major environmental problems unless agricultural practices change. If the current food production trend continues, Greenhouse gas emissions may double by 2050. As more and more lands are cleared to feed an ever growing global human population, many greenhouse gas emissions are threatening species extinctions. Global demand for food is expected to double in the next fifty years and new ways of meeting demand for food need to be explored.
As policy makers look to the future, it is important to identify the major long-run challenges to food security and rural livelihoods and to consider the areas where public investments can play the most crucial role. These will differ from country to country, as indeed the likely stresses will vary.
‘Food Security’ is not just limited to ‘Food Production’ or ‘Food Availability’ at national level, since other important aspects like ‘Access to Food’ at household level and ‘Nutritional Security’ are also enveloped in the broader topic of ‘Food Security’. However, given the significant immediate and long term challenges to food production in developing regions of the world like Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, the papers focus primarily on long term stresses to food production.
Among the questions to be addressed in this paper might be:
What are the most serious long-run concerns over agricultural productivity? What does the evidence show concerning the trends and patterns in productivity?
What are the likely effects of climate change and other environmental stressors on agricultural productivity? Where are the vulnerabilities greatest?
What are the various impact corridors (like climate induced migration, changes in yields etc) through which climate change and climate extremes will adversely impact food production and the rural population?
What policies are currently contributing to (or hindering) the flexibility, adaptation, and resilience of agricultural systems?
In many rural areas, there are benefits to be realized from both specialization and diversification. What are the relative payoffs to each of these strategies?
How can policies (property rights, credit availability, insurance etc) support farmers as they grapple with the transitions that they will face over the coming years?
The complete research paper on Addressing Long-Term Challenges to Food Security and Rural Livelihood (separately for Sub-Saharan African and South Asian countries) will be published shortly and will be made available on www.agripolicyoutreach.org for free download.
The Co-Author and Research Assistant on the project is Girish Nath Bahal, University of Cambridge. The findings, interpretations and conclusions expressed herein are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the view of Global Development Network or its Board of Directors.