The year 2020 was an extraordinary year in recent history. The devastating COVID-19 virus wreaked havoc across the world, on health and the economy alike, severely affecting every aspect of human life.
The pandemic has already shaken the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development to its very core and, as it continues, the full effect on the progress towards the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is still to be determined.
Where we stand now
In September 2019, the High-Level Political Forum noted that the world is “off track” to meeting the SDGs. The situation has not significantly improved this year – on the contrary, the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic is being felt across several SDG indicators, whose progress has deteriorated. The COVID-19 pandemic might have pushed an additional 83-132 million into chronic hunger in 2020.
Overall, progress remains insufficient in the food and agriculture domain, suggesting that the related SDG targets are beyond reach at a global level, unless corrective actions are urgently taken.
The COVID-19 pandemic propelled world hunger in 2020, which increased from 8.4 to as much as 10.4 percent of the global population in just one year, after remaining virtually stagnant for five years.
At the same time, the percentage of food lost after harvest on-farm and at the transport, storage and processing stages stands at 13.8 percent globally, amounting to over USD 400 billion a year.
While the prevalence of moderate or severe food insecurity has been slowly rising globally since 2014, the increase in 2020 was equal to that of the previous five years combined.
Systematic disparities are observed in the incomes and productivity of small-scale and large-scale food producers, with the former lagging behind on both fronts in all surveyed developing countries.
Women small-scale food producers in developing countries consistently earn less than men, even though their productivity is often on par or even higher than men. Gender disparities in agricultural land ownership also persist globally: in 29 out of the 33 countries assessed, relatively fewer women have such rights compared to their male counterparts. The degree to which legal frameworks guarantee women’s equal rights to land ranges from very low to medium in more than 60 percent of the 36 assessed countries.
Over the past decade, these trends have emerged even though government spending on agriculture has grown compared to the share of agriculture in global GDP, reaching levels similar to those observed in the early 2000s.
The growth rate of global holdings of plant genetic resources has slowed in the past decade, reaching its lowest level ever at 0.2 percent in 2020. Only 2.6 percent of global local livestock breeds have sufficient material in genebanks to reconstitute the breed in case of extinction – a wholly inadequate situation given that 74 percent of assessed local livestock breeds are at risk of extinction.
Globally, the proportion of countries afflicted by high or moderately high general food prices increased sharply in 2020 after years of a decreasing trend.
Global water stress remains at a safe 18.4 percent according to 2018 estimates. This represents a 0.2 percent increase since 2015, with certain regions like Western and Northern Africa and Southern Asia registering an extremely high water stress level of over 70 percent. Meanwhile, water use efficiency rose by 10 percent across all economic sectors.
Between 2018 and 2020, there has been global progress in the implementation of regulatory and institutional frameworks that protect access rights for small-scale fisheries and international instruments to combat illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing. The proportion of fish stocks within biologically sustainable levels fell to 65.85 percent globally, the lowest level yet in the downward trend observed since 1974.
While the rate of deforestation has slowed in the last decade in tropical regions, forest area fell from 31.9 percent of total land area in 2000 to 31.2 percent in 2020, representing a net loss of almost 100 million hectares of the world’s forests. Above-ground forest biomass per hectare, the proportion of forest area in protected areas and under long-term management plans, as well as certified forest area all increased or remained stable at the global level and in most of the regions of the world, demonstrating progress towards sustainable forest management.
Satellite imagery data reveals that the world’s mountain green coverage has remained stable globally, at about 73 percent between 2000 and 2018.
Additional indicators provide valuable insights
In 2021, FAO adopted a new Strategic Framework with SDGs 1, 2 and 10 as its core pillars. To provide a more comprehensive picture of the progress made towards the Agenda 2030 in addressing rural poverty and inequality, this report also discusses, for the first time, selected indicators for which FAO is a contributing agency and/or have key implications for food and agriculture across these Goals.
These additional indicators provide valuable information on agricultural losses due to disasters, the distribution of land tenure rights, and the impact of international trade policies and regulations on agricultural trade, especially in developing and Least Developed Countries (LDCs).
The role of the private sector
This report was launched during the high-level week of the Food Systems Summit in September 2021. The Summit brings together the efforts and contributions of a global engagement process to transform food systems with bold, innovative solutions.
A key actor in this effort, whose specific role is not yet sufficiently defined in the SDG agenda, is the private sector. To this end, this report also includes a special chapter on measuring the contribution of the private sector to the SDGs in the food and agriculture domain. FAO’s new Guidance on core indicators for agrifood systems – Measuring the private sector’s contribution to the Sustainable Development Goals (FAO, 2021a) provides practical guidance on how to measure the contribution of private actors to the SDGs in a consistent and comparable manner across countries.
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