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New FAO report paints a bleak picture of SDG achievements

Over flooded farm in Afar region, Ethiopia. © FAO/Michael Tewelde
19/09/2022

The adverse socioeconomic impacts of conflicts, COVID-19 and climate change set back efforts to achieve Agenda 2030 

As the world faces multiple crises dominated by new conflicts, the COVID-19 pandemic, climate change, economic shocks and growing inequalities, development has been halted or even reversed across several domains, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). 

“While the world was already off track from meeting the SDGs even prior to 2020, the last two years have seen a series of economic, political and environmental crises that have resulted in a reversal of progress along several economic and social dimensions, including food security and agricultural productivity”, said FAO Chief Statistician, Pietro Gennari. “Additional challenges - armed conflicts and the unfolding war in Ukraine, rising inflation and growing inequalities, increased frequency and severity of extreme weather events - are compounding the socioeconomic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, putting the SDGs at risk”, he added.  

The report, “Tracking progress on food and agriculture-related SDG indicators 2022”, was launched in the margins of the 77th Session of the UN General Assembly.It offers detailed analyses and trends on selected indicators for which FAO is a custodian or contributing agency or have key implications for food and agriculture across eight SDGs (1, 2, 5, 6, 10, 12, 14 and 15), highlighting areas of progress and areas where further effort is needed. The report is FAO’s fourth assessment of its kind, based on the latest data and estimates available. 

Some of the report’s highlights include:  

  • Comparing progress achieved in 2022 with respect to the previous year, only three indicators (the conservation of plant genetic resources, instruments to promote small-scale fisheries, and water use efficiency) register a notable improvement. By contrast, investment in agriculture has stalled, whereas indicators related to food security, fish stock sustainability, forest cover, and the value added of sustainable fisheries, are deteriorating. 

  • The latest forecasts estimate that rising inflation and the impacts of the war in Ukraine could push an additional 75 to 95 million people into extreme poverty in 2022, compared to pre-pandemic projections.   

  • Despite hopes that the world would recover from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and food security would begin to improve, world hunger rose further in 2021. After remaining relatively unchanged since 2015, the prevalence of undernourishment jumped from 8.0 to 9.3 percent from 2019 to 2020 and rose at a slower pace in 2021 to 9.8 percent. 

  • Globally, food loss estimates have remained fairly steady, showing no progress towards the target, while substantial variation across regions and subregions have been recorded. 

  • The agricultural sector has borne the brunt of economic losses due to frequent natural disasters. Direct economic losses attributed to disasters amounted to USD 15.4 billion in 2020, of which USD 6.8 billion were recorded in the agricultural sector. 

  • Small-scale food producers continue to be disadvantaged compared to larger farmers, both in terms of productivity and income. In half of the countries with available data, female-headed small-scale food production units earned 30 to 50 percent less than that of units headed by men. 

  • Food price volatility rose sharply from 16 to 47 percent in 2020, exacerbated by the constraints placed by the COVID-19 pandemic, associated lockdowns and market uncertainties, and, more recently, by the broader impact of the war in Ukraine. 

  • Progress remains weak in maintaining plant and animal genetic diversity for food and agriculture.72 percent of assessed local livestock breeds remain at risk of extinction. 

  • Gender inequalities persist in ownership and secure tenure rights over agricultural land. In 29 out of the 36 countries with available data, the share of women with ownership and/or secure tenure rights over agricultural land is significantly lower than for men, even though women represent about half of the total agriculture labour force in most countries.   

  • Although it remained at a safe level (18.6 percent in 2019) globally, water stress continued to rise in already critically affected regions, threatening progress towards sustainable development.  

  • Good progress have been achieved in combatting illegal fishing, but the sustainability of global fishery resources continues to decline, although at a reduced rate in recent years (from 90 percent in 1974 to 66.6 in 2015, and 64.6 in 2019). 

  • Significant progress have been reached globally towards sustainable forest management, but forest loss remains high (with a decline of 100 million ha over the course of past two decades).  

  • Positive developments towards reducing agricultural export subsidies have emerged in recent years: total notified annual outlays fell from their peak of USD 3.84 billion in 2003 to USD 58 million in 2019. 

  • Duty-free access for developing and Least Developed Countries (LDCs)’ exports in international markets has improved in recent years, particularly for agricultural products, while the overall growth of exports from LDCs remains worryingly low - at less than 1 percent in 2019 – a figure that has remained virtually stagnant for a decade.  

Call for action 

Echoing the UN Secretary-General António Guterres’s call for “an urgent rescue effort for the SDGs”, “Tracking progress on food and agriculture-related SDG indicators 2022” identifies areas that require urgent actionsto put the world back on track to reach the SDGs related to food and agriculture. The report emphasizes the need for national governments and the international community to build a more resilient agricultural sector; prevent the increase in world hunger and improve the productivity of small-scale farmers; preserve the diversity of plant and animal genetic resources; and bolster the resilience of food systems.  

Furthermore, the report calls for collective action to save water and increase water use efficiency in the regions most affected by high water stress; facilitate international trade of agriculture products through the redesign and implementation of non-tariff measures;  formulate policies that are geared specifically towards the reduction of food losses; support small-scale fishery communities and ensure the sustainable management of oceans;  protect terrestrial ecosystems, including by maintaining momentum in halting deforestation and forest degradation, and restoring damaged ecosystems.  

Although many countries have taken legislative action to address gender inequalities, the report warns that substantial progress is still needed to realize women’s land rights in countries’ legal frameworks and in practice. Similarly, despite significant achievements, an intensification of efforts is required to ensure that illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing no longer represents a threat to the sustainability of fisheries worldwide. 

To continue to gather and report on the most reliable and up-to-date information, the report also highlights the need to improve the statistical capacity of countries to monitor the SDGs. While considerable progress has been made towards building stronger data and statistical systems, significant SDG data gaps still exist. Greater investments to improve data collection tools and strengthen data infrastructure and capabilities are also crucial to trigger earlier responses to crises, anticipate future needs and implement the urgent actions needed to realize the 2030 Agenda. 

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