Almost 90% of the $ 540 billion in global subsidies given to farmers each year are “harmful,” according to a startling UN report.
This agricultural support is hurting people’s health, fueling the climate crisis, destroying nature and creating inequalities by excluding small farmers, many of whom are women, according to UN agencies.
The biggest sources of greenhouse gas emissions, such as beef and milk, received the largest subsidies, according to the report. These are often produced by large industrialized groups which are best placed to access subsidies.
Without reform, the level of subsidies was on track to climb to $ 1.8 billion (£ 1.3 billion) per year by 2030, further damaging human well-being and exacerbating the global crisis, said the UN.
Support for the “oversized” meat and dairy industry in rich countries must be cut, while subsidies for chemical fertilizers and polluting pesticides must be cut in low-income countries, according to the analysis.
The report, released ahead of a United Nations food systems summit on September 23, said reallocating grants to beneficial activities could “be a game-changer” and help end poverty, end hunger, and end hunger. improve nutrition, reduce global warming and restore nature. Good uses of public money might include supporting healthy foods, such as vegetables and fruits, improving the environment, and supporting small farmers.
Numerous analyzes in recent years have concluded that the global food system is at a standstill, with over 800 million people suffering from chronic hunger in 2020 and 3 billion unable to afford a healthy diet, while 2 billion people are obese. or overweight, and a third of the food is wasted. The total damage caused has been estimated at $ 12 billion per year, more than the value of the food produced.
The report was published by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) and constitutes an underestimation of the total subsidies in the food system, as it only includes those for which reliable data are available in 88 countries.
“This report is a wake-up call for governments around the world to rethink agricultural support programs to fit the goal of transforming our agrifood systems and contributing to the best four: a better nutrition, better production, a better environment and a better life, ”said Qu Dongyu, FAO Director General.
UNDP chief Achim Steiner said the reorientation of subsidies would also improve the livelihoods of the world’s 500 million smallholder farmers by ensuring a more level playing field with industrial agriculture.
Marco Sánchez, FAO Deputy Director and author of the report, said: “The current support for farms must be transformed according to today’s realities. For example, the United States is now aligning itself with the Paris climate agreement, which is very welcome, but there is no way for them to achieve these climate goals if they do not tackle not to the food industries. “
Joy Kim, UNEP, said: “Agriculture contributes a quarter of greenhouse gas emissions, 70% of biodiversity loss and 80% of deforestation. She said international funding pledges for climate change were $ 100 billion per year and $ 5 billion per year for deforestation. “But governments provide $ 470 billion [in farm support] which has a huge negative impact on the climate and nature.
The report found that between 2013 and 2018, support to farmers averaged $ 540 billion a year, of which 87% ($ 470 billion) was “harmful”. This included price incentives for specific livestock and crops, subsidies for fertilizers and pesticides, and distorted export subsidies and import tariffs.
These harm health by promoting overconsumption of meat in rich countries and overconsumption of poorly nutritious staple foods in the poorest. “If you don’t promote fruits and vegetables, then in relative terms it is very costly for the consumer to eat healthy,” Sánchez said. “This is why 2 billion people in the world cannot afford a healthy diet.”
The report highlighted some cases of affirmative action, such as measures taken in China to reduce the use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides, and the zero-budget natural agriculture policy in the Indian state of India. Andhra Pradesh.
The UK is also reorienting its £ 3 billion a year subsidy program towards environmental goals. Some subsidies should also be redirected to help farmers cope with the growing extreme weather impacts of the climate crisis, according to the report.
The EU is due to pay 387 billion euros (£ 330 billion) in agricultural subsidies from 2021 to 2027, but last Thursday Green MPs in Brussels said a planned overhaul had failed to align the agriculture on the EU’s climate change targets.
Reshaping agricultural support in the face of vested interests was difficult, Sánchez said, but it could be done by specifying the costs to governments, by consumers demanding better, and by financial institutions stopping lending to harmful activities.
“The real costs to our food system have been hidden for too long,” said Morgan Gillespy, program director at the Food and Land Use Coalition. The damage to nature caused by the subsidy schemes was $ 4 billion to $ 6 billion, according to a recent study, she said.
“Changes in subsidy regimes are likely to be politically controversial and could spark protests among farmers and other groups,” Gillespy said. “But just because it’s difficult doesn’t mean it shouldn’t happen. The facts are now clear.
Consultation with farmers was vital, she said. Copa-Cogeca, the largest interest group for European farmers, did not respond to a request for comment.
A separate report, released by the World Resources Institute in August, said that without reform, agricultural subsidies “will render large swathes of healthy land useless.”
He said: “Given that the world will number 10 billion people by 2050, the loss of this land will make it impossible to feed the world’s population.”
Instead, farmers should be supported to restore their land through techniques such as agroforestry, he said.