Policies, Investments and Incentives for a Productive Sustainable Future

Consumer demand plays an important role in determining how and what food and agricultural goods are produced. However, a strategy that relies primarily on consumer behavior to drive systemic change neglects what research has shown: wide-spread and lasting changes in agriculture are driven by policies, investments, and incentives that facilitate the adoption of agricultural technologies, best practices, and attention to ecosystem services. This Includes:
  • Providing training and financial support to producers to identify and enhance ecosystem services.
  • Developing tailored interventions to reduce GHG emissions from small-scale livestock production.
  • Scaling-up R&D investments to make staple and non-staple food crops more productive, climate resilient, and nutritious.
  • Using smart land-use policies to ensure that productivity growth does not stimulate land expansion.
  • Strengthening rural economies by investing in infrastructure, sanitation, healthcare, and education.

This chapter explore six areas of policy focus that can be tailored to meet specific needs.

Reduce post-harvest loss and food waste

Sustainable agriculture systems cannot be achieved without drastic reductions in food loss and waste (FLW). Reducing FLW increases the availability and affordability of nutritious food, eases the environmental impact of food and agricultural production, and preserves the value of the land, labor, water, and other inputs used in the production process.

SDG2 calls for a 50 percent reduction in global FLW by 2030. Reducing FLW keeps critical nutrients in the food system and preserves the investment of natural and capital resources used to produce them.1

Foods with some of the most important nutrient content (fresh fruits and vegetables, dairy and lean meats) are also the most likely to spoil quickly and end up in the trash can. In the U.S., fruits and vegetables alone account for almost 40 percent of the waste, 17 percent is milk and dairy products and 13.5 percent is meat.2

Not only do spoiled foods end up in landfills producing methane, they are a waste of the agricultural resources used to produce them.

The USDA study calculates that the equivalent of 30 million acres of cropland would be needed to produce the food and animal feed for livestock products (dairy, meat and eggs) that Americans throw away each year.3 Nearly 4.2 trillion gallons of irrigation water is wasted, including 2.35 trillion gallons to produce the wasted fruit and vegetables alone.

Stock image showing edible food thrown into a trash can.

Invest in public agricultural R&D, extension services, and consumer education

Our food and agriculture systems face profound challenges in the 21st century.

Consumers need more nutritious food that is affordable and safe; producers seek innovation to help them beat climate change and natural resource constraints; and the entire agri-food value chain must rapidly adopt new practices and tools that contribute to a healthy sustainable world.

Public sector agricultural R&D, extension services, and consumer education programs generate innovation and information that facilitate environmentally sustainable agricultural output growth, improve human health, and support a vibrant agricultural economy.

Due to agriculture’s dependence on limited resources like water and land, it may be unique in its reliance on productivity and innovation to meet the rapidly growing demand of consumers by 2050. 4 Agri-food innovation systems rely heavily on public agricultural research and development (R&D) and extension systems as well as regulatory frameworks that incentivize risk-taking innovation and investment.

Agricultural R&D investments require long gestation periods of more than a decade to realize the full benefits that these investments generate. Over time, they pay large dividends, including higher profits for farmers, more abundant food supply at lower cost for consumers, and more opportunities and a higher quality of life in rural communities.

Yet, investments in public research in agriculture are not keeping up with the need. Without significant increases in R&D investment and partnerships, food and agriculture systems will fall short of a vision for a healthier, more sustainable world.

A photo of a researcher examining plant samples.

Embrace science- and information-based technologies and practices

Science- and information-based technologies and practices enable producers of all scales to manage environmental and economic risks, by improving their sustainability, resilience, and competitiveness.

Productive sustainable food and agriculture systems depend on public policies that support the development, customization and dissemination of science-based and information technologies. Information technologies such as apps and social media help consumers learn more about the food they eat and agriculture products they use.

Technologies help producers manage the ever-present risks in agriculture while improving sustainability and competitiveness.

Advanced plant breeding through biotechnology and gene-editing enhances drought tolerance and yields, while disease management practices keep livestock healthy and productive. Efficient irrigation and cultivation technologies improve water productivity and reduce labor burdens. Storage and cold chain technologies ensure that more agricultural products reach markets rather than landfills.

Producers use technology to access vital information on market prices, weather, pests and soil health. Precision agriculture and data management tools help reduce costs and conserve scarce water and soil resources.

A photo of cows with an app showing cow stats.

Improve infrastructure and market access for agricultural inputs and outputs

Efficient transportation, communications, and financial infrastructures, as well as affordable and equitable access to markets for agricultural inputs, services, and outputs, support sustainable economic growth, diminish waste and loss, and reduce costs for producers and consumers.

Policies that incentivize private-sector investment in physical and human infrastructures are crucial to increasing the productivity and sustainability of agriculture. An efficient infrastructure system brings safe, nutritious affordable food to more people.

Public-private partnerships to develop road, water, rail and port infrastructures open new markets and reduce transaction costs for producers, retailers and consumers.

Reliable and affordable electricity and cold-chain systems as well as access to high-speed broadband make farmers more efficient and competitive, while reducing loss and waste in the value chain.

For small-scale and emerging producers, infrastructure investments reduce costs and connect them with education, innovation and wider market opportunities.

A photo of a man climbing down an electricity pole.

Expand and improve regional and global trade

Forward-looking trade agreements, including transparent policies and consistently enforced regulations, facilitate the efficient and cost-effective movement of agricultural inputs, services, and products to the people who need them.

Forward-looking trade agreements efficiently move products to markets that need them, benefitting consumers and producers.

An enabling policy environment for regional and global trade includes transparent policies and consistently enforced laws and regulations, as well as coherent trade rules across countries.

Since many countries do not have the human or financial capacity to effectively manage complex regional and global trade opportunities, policies can start by building country capacity to facilitate local agricultural trade, with an eye toward helping small and medium-scale farmers access larger markets, increase their incomes and expand their businesses.

Improvements in trade policies and infrastructure will enable consumers around the world to access a wider variety of foods, as well as staple foods at competitive prices.

Service industries account for a growing share of jobs and economic growth. In agriculture, trade in services helps improve and modernize production and brings innovation to agri-food systems.

Developing countries can help unlock the potential of their manufacturing and agricultural sectors by opening to trade in services that boost the sustainability and quality of agriculture and food production and lowers costs for consumers and businesses.

A photo of people unloading milk from a truck.

Cultivate partnerships for sustainable agriculture, gender equity, and improved nutrition

Public-private-producer partnerships supporting agricultural development, gender equity, and nutritious food systems leverage public and private investments in economic development, natural resource management, and human health.

To develop their agricultural economies and reduce malnutrition, governments leverage their resources through partnerships with local and international private businesses, non- governmental organizations, foundations, multilateral institutions and development agencies.

Partners agree to share the risk, responsibilities and benefits of their joint investments to increase agricultural productivity and sustainability, improving the lives of small-scale producers and rural communities.

Including producer groups in the design, management and monitoring and evaluation of the partnerships provides local knowledge, increases community buy-in, builds leadership and encourages inclusion of underserved groups, such as women and youth.

Multi-stakeholder partnerships that share knowledge, innovations and resources are essential to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SGDs).

A photo of women in Nepal harvesting cabbages.

Partner Case Study: Partner Name