22 July 2015

OECD-FAO Agricultural Outlook : short-sighted optimism…?

Welcoming the drop of the oil price that reduces the cost of energy and fertilizer and will contribute to an increase of world agricultural production - by pushing forward the development of an energy-intensive rather than a more sustainable agriculture -, and projecting a downturn in world food demand, the OECD and FAO expect to see the confirmation of the progressive fall of agricultural prices, although their level is expected to remain above what it was before the 2007-2008 food crisis.

These two international organisations, which are supposed to influence world agricultural policies, remind us, at a time when the Tour de France makes the news headlines, of a bike rider who would keep his eyes on his speedometer while he races down at breakneck speed a dangerous, narrow and winding mountain road, on the edge of a precipice… “So far, so good…”. Outlook? Is that what you said?

An additional sad point is that these two organisations expect a further concentration of exports from a decreasing number of countries, while the number of countries relying on the world market for their food imports will continue to grow. [read more on international trade] Is that not a recipe for further food crises similar to what had been observed during the second part of the first decade of this century, a perspective that is only briefly mentioned in the report published by the two organisations in July.

How is it possible to think in this way and welcome the unsustainable trends followed by the world food system at the time when the preparations are on-going for the Paris Climate Change Conference 2015 and when stock is being taken of progress made in achieving the Millenium Development Goals (MDG), as 2015 is the MDG horizon year? Instead of welcoming this situation which is largely a consequence of a geopolitical struggle where relations between the US and Russia have degraded and where Saudi Arabia seeks to weaken Iran…, would it not be better to conduct a more long term reflection on the risks of such a trend - if it is really confirmed -  would generate for the sustainability of world agriculture and the improvement of the food security situation? Of course, the two organisations will argue that this is not the purpose of the report they just released, but is this really a valid reason?

By stating bluntly that consumption of staple food per person will be near to saturation in many emerging economies, OECD and FAO are they not positioning their thinking in the OECD-FAO Agricultural Outlook 2015-2024 within the very limited scope of short-sighted productionists who do not account for the social and environmental consequences of the future they sketch out? Have they forgotten that it is in the two main emerging countries alone, China and India, that one third of the chronically undernourished people of the world live (330 million persons)? [read] This contrasts surprisingly with the discussions that have taken place during the Third International Conference on Financing for Development and with the document prepared by FAO on this occasion that highlights - for the first time - the critical role investment in social protection has for eradicating world hunger! We will have an opportunity to come back on this issue in the near future on

In their outlook work, FAO and OECD however show that they are not totally insensitive to the issue of sustainability. They demonstrate it by emphasizing with what appears to be an excessive optimism, in the chapter on Brazil, that ”Brazil’s agricultural growth can be achieved sustainably”. An agricultural giant, Brazil has made huge investments in agricultural research and has been, as a consequence, one of the countries that have achieved the fastest growth in agricultural productivity. Productivity, along with increase in cultivated area (often to the detriment of the Amazonian forest; +34 million hectares between 1990 and 2012, almost equivalent to the total agricultural area of France) has made it possible for Brazil to become one of the biggest agricultural exporters and the first producer of ethanol (from sugarcane) in the world. But this has also meant a very strong increase in the use of fertiliser and pesticides and a degradation of the environment. It has also gone along with an explosive growth of GMO crops (Brazil is the second GMO producer in the world, behind the US). Despite efforts made to increase the ecological sustainability of Brazilian agriculture, agricultural policies in place are quite liberal and have only limited financial and regulatory means to influence decisions taken by producers, when compared to what is the case in other large agricultural powers, the US and the European Union in particular, and they seem quite unable to turn Brazilian agriculture into a more sustainable, less energy-intensive and more natural resources-friendly agriculture.


Further readings :

  1. -OECD/FAO, OECD-FAO Agricultural Outlook 2015-2024, 2015

Previous related articles on Brazil on

  1. -New road across Amazonia will facilitate Brazilian soybean exports, 2014

  2. -Brazil may approve the use of sterile GMO seeds using the so-called ‘‘terminator’’ technology in February 2014, 2014

  3. -Brazil: a report reveals that all GMO plantations are illegal, 2013


Last update:    July 2015

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