As 2021 ends, we take a retrospective look at five agriculture trends that were highlighted by the World Bank this year. Though these issues represent just a fragment of the bank’s work, the thought leadership provided by the institution’s research and policy work is key to global efforts to reduce poverty and hunger while slowing climate change.
1. Food security
Like the previous year, news in agriculture and food in 2021 was dominated by deteriorating food security. Approximately 30% of the world’s population lacked access to adequate food in 2020 and into 2021.
The World Bank took action to fight food insecurity around the world, providing immediate aid to vulnerable households and more long-term support to farmers in the form of seeds, fertiliser, and other agricultural inputs.
Covid-19 also pushed more people into poverty and made the poor poorer around the world. This, along with supply chain interruptions and rising prices had a major impact on hunger.
2. Farming insects for food and feed
This December, the World Bank released a report looking at the valuable role farming insects can play in both food security and climate-smart agriculture, Insect and Hydroponic Farming in Africa: The New Circular Food Economy.
While two billion people regularly eat insects harvested in the wild, farming them for food at scale is new. The report found that African insect farming could generate crude protein worth up to US$2.6 billion and biofertilisers worth up to US$19.4 billion.
That is enough protein meal to meet up to 14% of the crude protein needed to rear all the pigs, goats, fish, and chickens in Africa.
Key benefits of insect farming include:
- Insects can be farmed without arable land.
- Insects can be grown within a couple of weeks.
- The food they need to grow comes from food waste.
- Insect waste can be used as fertiliser.
- Insects can be used as animal feed, cutting farmer expenses, and reducing greenhouse gases generated from farming and transporting other feed such as soybeans.
- People can eat insects or sell them for income, increasing food security.
3. Fixing food finance to build a greener future
While agriculture currently accounts for about 25% of greenhouse gas emissions, it also offers opportunities to both fight climate change and feed more people as the world’s population grows to 10 billion people by 2050. One of the keys will be changing the way agriculture is financed and incentivised.
A report from the bank, published in September, explains the US$12 trillion in annual hidden social, economic, and environmental costs generated by our current food system and offers recommendations to break the cycle by implementing five food finance imperatives that will help implement climate-smart agriculture.
The report, Food Finance Architecture: Financing a Healthy, Equitable and Sustainable Food System, was written in conjunction with the Food and Land Use Coalition, and the International Food Policy Research Institute, and released to coincide with the UN Food Systems Summit.
4. Digital agriculture and the path to the future
Agriculture continued its march to the digital future in 2021, both with new techniques being developed for growing food and technology that better links the world’s 570 million farmers and 8 billion consumers.
In March, the Bank released the report What’s Cooking: Digital Transformation of the Agrifood System, which explores how digital technologies are improving the food system and provides a roadmap for countries to scale up their own digital agriculture. The report also provides a framework to evaluate policy proposals that can make the food system more efficient, equitable, and environmentally sustainable.
5. Feeding growing cities
In March, the Bank looked at the fast-growing cities of Asia and how they have integrated food systems into their planning. The resulting report, RICH Food, Smart City, demonstrated that more needs to be done at the planning stages to ensure a plentiful and safe supply of food to residents now and in the future.
Only 8% of the 170 emerging Asian cities surveyed by the Bank and FAO were deemed to be “food-smart”–working proactively to ensure strong food systems.
As was made clear by the disruptions caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, it is key for cities to pursue “smarter” food policy in order to foster reliable, inclusive, competitive, and healthy food systems better aligned with their challenges and aspirations.