Agriculture: Great Social Value for Money
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Without doubt, agriculture either directly or indirectly impacts every single person on this planet. Agriculture not only feeds us all, but feeds our economy. In developed nations this industry is often taken for granted, because food is so available, we forget where it comes from and when we are facing a world full of challenges it is often easy to be distracted by other seemingly more 'prevalent' problems. But a recent study by the Copenhagen Consensus Center has revealed that helping agriculture do better is one of the highest impact ways to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals of the UN. The target to increase agricultural yields by 40% has been identified as one of the 19 out of 169 targets that represent best value for money.

This report suggests that investing an extra $2.5 billion per year in agricultural research and development to boost yields will reduce food prices for poor people, resulting in 80 million fewer hungry people and provide benefits worth $84 billion per year.

Throughout the last year and half, the Copenhagen Consensus Center has published 100+ peer-reviewed analyses from 82 of the world's top economists and 44 sector experts along with many UN agencies and NGOs. These have established how effective 169 targets would be in terms of social value-for-money. An Expert Panel including two Nobel Laureates has reviewed this research and identified 19 targets that represent the best value-for-money in development over the period 2016 to 2030, offering more than $15 back on every dollar invested.

One of the first things to scale up should be support to agriculture, along with investments in education and health. In particular, the report cites "free trade, educating pre-schoolers in Africa, nutrition and ensuring greater gender equality for women."

Of the 19, several reflect agriculture, food security and nutrition, and rural lives:

  • Lower chronic child malnutrition by 40%: Providing nutritional supplements, deworming, and improving the balance of diet for 0-2 year olds will cost $11bn and prevent 68m children from being malnourished every year
  • Reduce trade restrictions (full Doha) Achieving more free trade (e.g. the Doha round) would make each person in the developing world $1,000 richer per year by 2030, lifting 160m people out of extreme poverty at a cost of $20bn per year Improve gender equality in ownership, business and politics
  • Ensuring women can own and inherit property, perform basic business needs like signing a contract and be represented in parliament will empower women
  • Boost agricultural yield growth by 40% Investing an extra $2.5bn per year in agricultural R&D to boost yields will reduce food prices for poor people, mean 80m fewer people go hungry and provide benefits worth $84bn per year

Related to my prior article, it also cites the importance of tackling malaria, tuberculosis, and cut early death from chronic disease. They also bravely and rightly identify the importance of combatting HIV through circumcision. Just circumcising HIV-negative men in the 5 worst affected countries will cost $35m annually and avert 1.1m infections by 2030.

All 169 targets have global support. Having had the good fortune to engage in the process as a non-state actor, it was moving to see the globe come together and agree an Agenda to see us through 2030. Now as we move to a period of action and implementation, there is a risk that the "indivisibility" of these goals leaves everyone unable to know how to start. It is unrealistic to assume that every government has the resources to achieve all of the 169 targets right away.

Somethings are going to need to come first and to benefit from an ongoing review and consultation process that provides for continuous improvement. When prioritizing 19 targets first it is equivalent to doubling or quadrupling foreign aid, according to the Centre. We need to invest more in our agriculture systems if we want to achieve the SDG's and get the best social value for our money while doing so.

The overarching theme of the Sustainable Development Goals is to "leave no one behind", but if we don't get started quickly, we risk leaving many behind, especially those in rural areas.

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