Agri-food expert to call for more coherent polices to help feed the world and protect the planet


A leading global food policy expert talks next week at the N8 AgriFood Conference about the need for policy makers to adopt an integrated approach to food systems  – to feed and nourish a rising population while protecting the environment and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

In his speech to the fifth annual N8 AgriFood Conference, Jonathan Brooks, Head of AgriFood Trade and Markets Division, at the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development will describe the formidable “triple challenge” facing the world and that only through collaboration will it be met. The N8 AgriFood conference promises to drive debate and provide solutions to some of the most critical challenges facing world food systems.

The OECD, which produces the annual OECD-FAO Agricultural Outlook, describes the three challenges as feeding a world population that is expected to approach 10 billion by 2050 and providing adequate nutrition; doing so sustainably and adapting to climate change; and providing incomes to more than 500 million farmers and others along the food chain while supporting balanced development.

Dr Brooks will tell international scientists, industry, agricultural experts and policy makers, that: “Agriculture is the world’s oldest economic sector, but is similar to its newest, the internet, in that rapid changes have brought enormous benefits, but created a range of negative side effects. Similarly, policies have not kept pace with these structural changes, or succeeded in addressing them in a coherent way.

“The complexity of the triple challenge means drawing on a wide range of expertise, from crop science to the economics of supply chains and the requirements for effective nutrition.

“It also means resolving complex trade-offs, such as the benefits that livestock provides in terms of nutrition for consumers and incomes for farmers with undeniable costs, in particular greenhouse gas emissions.” 

And according to Dr Brooks, the record so far is mixed, with notable achievements on each of the three challenges, but still a recognition that the overall system is falling short on each. World food production continues to outpace population growth and many people enjoy better nutrition than the generation before them. However, there are still more than 800 million hungry, and even greater numbers of overweight and obese people.

Ahead of the conference at The Principal hotel in York, 22 -23 October, he said: “Over the past 60 years, the increase in agricultural production has been achieved first and foremost through increases in productivity as opposed to increased area. This has saved the world from wholesale deforestation.

“Nevertheless, a large share of the world’s soils are degraded and many countries suffer from increased water stress, and whilst productivity growth has lowered the emissions intensity of production, overall GHG emissions continue to rise.

“Across countries, the development of agriculture has been associated with a shedding of labour from the sector. In most countries, the absorption of labour in other sectors has raised incomes and led to improved economic opportunities. Still, many farmers struggle to compete in a competitive market, and there are concerns about whether these changes are contributing to balanced economic and spatial development.

“This needs to be tackled with a better mutual understanding across disciplines, which is a first step towards ensuring that food and agriculture policies are able to address society’s needs and expectations in the 21st century.”


The conference, featuring 11 sessions, will be opened by the University of York’s Vice Chancellor Professor Charlie Jeffrey, with an introduction by Riaz Bhunoo, director of the Global Food Security Programme. Other keynote speakers are National Farmers Union’s Head of Food and Farming Phil Hambling, the Co-op’s Head of Food Policy, Cathryn Higgs and there will be contributions from other key organisations including Defra, Nestle UK, Oxfam, Natural England, the Fairtrade Foundation, Which?, CafeDirect, Sustainable Food Cities and the Cranfield Institute.

Anthonia James, Operations Director for N8 AgriFood, said: “We are looking forward to sharing and celebrating our contributions to these significant challenges. There is increasing recognition of a need to provide solutions on a large scale, which can most efficiently be achieved by collaboration between academics from a range of disciplines and stakeholders from across the sector. We are in an excellent position to respond to this need at such a crucial time.”

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