Doubling Agricultural Productivity Is The Right Goal

The previous 10 years have witnessed unprecedented demand for agricultural commodities, driven by income increases and population growth in China and India, as well as demand for biofuels stimulated by high energy prices.

OECD and FAO attribute the decline in the rate of food demand growth to moderating rates of economic and population growth, particularly in China, and a decline in demand for biofuels. While the rate of demand growth may be slowing (compared to the previous 10 years), the overall demand for food and agriculture products is still rising, as is the global population.

Over the next decade, the OECD and the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) project that the rate of demand growth for all agricultural commodities will slow compared with the last decade. The rate of demand growth for cereal grains, meat, fish and vegetable oil will be cut nearly in half, the notable exception being increasing demand for fresh dairy.

The projected slowdown in demand for food and agriculture products over the next decade has prompted calls for a reduction in the agricultural output targets for 2050.1

Yet a large and growing body of sophisticated modeling by agricultural economists examining long-term scenarios for agriculture, food and the environment indicates that it may be too soon to consider revising these goals downward.2

The Agricultural Model Intercomparison and Improvement Project (AgMIP) is an international collaborative effort to improve agricultural economic models. AgMIP coordinates regional and global assessments of climate impacts and uses multiple scenarios for crop and livestock production across differing geographies to explore the effects of uncertainty, data selection and methodology on the models’ results.

AgMIP’s analysis of 10 leading global multi-sectoral projection models found that world agricultural production of crops and livestock between 2005 and 2050 will need to rise by between 60 and 111 percent, with demand growth particularly strong for ruminant products (cows, sheep) as well as for commodities used in the production of biofuels – sugar, coarse grains and oilseeds.3 (The OECD/FAO prediction of a decrease in the rate of demand growth for food and agriculture products extends only to 2026, not to 2050.)

Agricultural Model Intercomparison and Improvement Project (AgMIP) scientists visited Wote, Makueni County in Kenya. They held discussions with county policy makers on climate change adaptation strategies. Photo credit: V. Atakos/CCAFS

Most importantly, AgMIP points to the impact climate change will have on the ability of agriculture to meet future demand. The 10 models suggest that climate change will generate higher prices for agricultural commodities in general and particularly for crops. The impact of climate change must be considered to avoid a downward bias in projected supply estimates.



  1. OECD-FAO Agricultural Outlook 2017-2026, OECD Publishing, 2017
  2. Hunter, M.C. et al., “Agriculture in 2050: Recalibrating Targets for Sustainable Intensification,” BioScience, published by Oxford University Press for the American Institute of Biological Sciences, 2017.
  3. Von Lampe, M. et al., “Why Do Global Long-term Scenarios for Agriculture Differ? An overview of the AgMIP Global Economic Model Intercomparison,” Agricultural Economics, January 2014.

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