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Improving Productivity in Agriculture: A Foundation for Sustainable Breadbaskets
By Dr. Margaret M. Zeigler
Executive Director, Global Harvest Initiative
I’ve spent nearly 25 years working in the nexus of international and domestic agriculture and food security—and each year I see the growing importance of agricultural productivity as a sustainable foundation for how we feed, clothe and provide energy for a growing global population.
Productivity growth – a measure of output per unit of input – allows more to be produced while maximizing the use and impact of scarce resources. Productivity growth is a major determinant of economic expansion and vital for promoting an improved standard of living. In the context of agriculture, productivity helps farmers by lowering the production costs per unit of output, reduces commodity prices for consumers and frees land, labor, capital and other inputs for use elsewhere in the economy.
Improving agricultural productivity is part of a comprehensive strategy to sustainably feed the world, as it reduces impact on precious natural resources while helping to meet the rising demand for food, feed, fiber and biofuels. Additionally, as megacities grow with millions living in urban areas, productive agriculture systems, coupled with efficient infrastructure will be vital to supply urban food needs.
After the food price crisis of 2007-2008, the Global Harvest Initiative instituted an annual report that provides a snapshot of progress made to sustainably double global agricultural output (food, feed, fiber and biofuel). Each year at the World Food Prize in Des Moines, Iowa, GHI releases its GAP Report® and GAP Index™, data-driven measurements that measure agricultural productivity growth against growth in global population and food demand. The report highlights how collaborative solutions are being implemented by governments, farmers, agribusiness, NGOs and multilateral institutions to improve agriculture and food value chains and to sustainably feed the world.
The GAP Report® uses a specialized measure, Total Factor Productivity (TFP) which is the ratio of agricultural outputs (gross crop and livestock output) to inputs (land, labor, fertilizer, feed, machinery and livestock).
TFP measures the efficiency of production, and enables farmers and policymakers to know whether the output comes simply from increasing the inputs used for agriculture, or due to better use of existing resources and application of improved products and technologies. TFP provides just that information, helping to guide future investment decisions.
Global agricultural productivity must increase by 1.75 percent annually in order to meet the demands of a growing population that will reach 9.7 billion in 2050. According to GHI’s 2015 GAP Index™ – the current rate of growth is only 1.72 percent. The rate of annual productivity growth in low-income countries is much lower, only 1.5 percent.
At this rate, 15 years from now (2030) Sub-Saharan Africa will only be able to meet 14 percent of its food demand through sustainable production, driving up food prices for poor households and requiring significant imports, food assistance, and opening up environmentally sensitive land for agricultural production. For the lowest-income countries, poor urban households and landless agricultural laborers will bear the brunt of higher food prices and the natural resource impact of agriculture will be profound.
The 2015 GAP Report®, Building Sustainable Breadbaskets, is a call to action to grow nutritious, sustainable food value chains, while conserving natural resources and improving the livelihoods of farmers. Building Sustainable Breadbaskets presents a wide array of successful collaborations that are working in countries as diverse as the United States and Zambia, across all scales of farm sizes and agricultural value chain contexts.
We hope you will join us in the coming weeks as we dig deeper into the GAP Report® and as we share with you more examples of these successful collaborations!