While many thatch roofs were replaced by more modern slate roofs as part of the 1970s New Village Movement (Saemaul Undong), some better specimens were preserved, such as in Yangdong village, now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. ©Robert Harding/Alamy Stock Photo

Cities are in fashion nowadays among policy-makers as countries everywhere look to urban areas as hubs for innovation and growth. But what about the countryside? Economic development led by continuous rural-to-urban migration and rising living standards and opportunities in the urban milieu, not to mention industrialisation, contributes to widening disparities between rural and urban areas. Korea’s development experience shows that socially-inclusive and sustainable growth requires developing rural areas as an integral part of successful economic development. Indeed, Korea’s rapid rise from a mainly agricultural and food-aid recipient nation to one of the fastest-growing, developed OECD economies was made possible by a structural transformation that involved urban and rural areas alike.

©OECD/Michael Dean

Ministers of Agriculture and Representatives of OECD’s 34 member countries and the EU and those of Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, Indonesia, Latvia, Lithuania, Peru, Romania, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Ukraine, and Viet Nam, along with Representatives, of BIAC, FAO, IFAD, IFPRI, TUAC, UN and WTO, met in Paris for the first time in six years to explore challenges and opportunities facing the global food system around the theme Better Policies to Achieve a Productive, Sustainable and Resilient Global Food System. Minister Stéphane Le Foll of France and Secretary Tom Vilsack of United States, co-chairs of the meeting, led a day and a half of intensive discussions on the future of agriculture and agriculture’s role in the global future, kicked off by a presentation with OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría, to invited members of the press and public on their shared vision for the sector. 


Not so long ago, “globalisation” was a favourite paradigm in international business. It was a trend that began in the late 1970s and accelerated in the 1980s, when corporate takeovers were the order of the day and multinational companies fixated on maximising short-term profits and boosting share prices. One approach was “global sourcing”, also called outsourcing or offshoring. The strategy typically involved moving the company’s operations to wherever labour was cheapest. First the production work went abroad, and then companies were offloading all but their most essential core activities.

Thomas J Vilsack, US Secretary of Agriculture, and Stephane Le Foll, French Minister of Agriculture, Agrifood and Forestry Thomas J Vilsack and Stephane Le Foll; ©Rights reserved

The 2016 OECD Agriculture Ministerial meeting on “Better Policies to Achieve a Productive, Sustainable and Resilient Global Food System”, which we are honoured to serve as co-chairs, comes at an opportune moment. 

Food is a basic requirement of life and fundamental to our well-being. Nevertheless, as humanity becomes more urbanised, agriculture and farming tend to be neglected. This is dangerous. The OECD Agriculture Ministerial meeting taking place on 7-8 April aims precisely at preventing this by helping define a new policy paradigm for a more productive, competitive and sustainable food system for all.

Handewi Purwati Saliem, Director, Indonesian Center for Agriculture Socio Economic and Policy Studies (ICASEP) Handewi Purwati Saliem

Agriculture faces a challenging future. The world’s population is rising and pressures on natural resources are mounting, while environmental issues such as climate change loom large.

Major floods and droughts have prevailed in many countries throughout 2015. South Africa saw the emergence of its worst drought in 30 years, Ethiopia is threatened with a major food crisis, and California suffered its fourth consecutive year of drought. Floods caused over 2 000 deaths in India last summer, while England, Paraguay and South Carolina reported unprecedented flood damage. The trouble is, climate change is expected to increase the frequency and severity of such extreme weather events in the coming years.


Imagine travelling through time, not as Stephen Hawking would, through wormholes into a new dimension, but rather just to see how farming might look several decades from now. How policy makers and farmers might appreciate such foresight.

“Necessity is the mother of invention” is an oft-repeated phrase that is highly relevant to agricultural systems today. Growing global demand for food, fuel and fibre will have to be met by improving agricultural productivity growth, which will be a tall order, given increasing pressures on natural resources, resulting from climate change and competition for land, for instance. Any growth in agriculture will therefore have to be achieved sustainably through more efficient resource use.

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As agriculture has proven itself able to respond to shifts in demand in the past, it could be argued that food security is less an issue of food supply and more one of affordable access.

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Over the past 20 years, support provided to agricultural producers in 49 countries analysed by the OECD has been following a downward trend. 

Freshwater is essential for life, yet makes up only a tiny fraction of all water on earth. In many areas, especially arid and dry regions, underground aquifers are the only source. Even in less arid regions, groundwater provides an essential resource: in fact, some 2.6 billion people worldwide rely on groundwater resources. Farming is one major reason: over 60% of irrigated agriculture in the US uses groundwater, and in Spain more than 70% of irrigation comes from below ground reserves.    

What have “bursa siyahi” and “sarilop” got in common? They are both varieties of figs. If you enjoy fresh figs in the summer or puddings in the winter, you may be interested to know that there were more than 300 fresh fig varieties growing on earth. The biggest producers are Turkey and Egypt.

©Guiziou Franck/HEMIS.FR

Joacquim is a subsistence farmer from Etatara in Mozambique. At 46 years old, he is his family’s sole breadwinner, responsible for supporting his wife and three orphaned grandchildren. He lives in a traditional house, which he is unable to use as collateral, and grows maize, sorghum, cassava and beans. They consume a lot of the produce themselves, and what is not consumed is sold. Joacquim earns US$300-500 per month depending on the season and his produce.

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Some 18% of the total OECD arable and permanent cropland area was sown with transgenic crops in the period including 2008 to 2010.

While green growth has been paid a great deal of lip service by policymakers, business leaders and other stakeholders, few concrete strategies have been put in place. Perhaps surprisingly, even in agriculture, most OECD countries still do not have solid plans in place for pursuing green growth in this sector. 

A world leader in phosphates and its derivatives, OCP is strongly committed to contribute to a sustainable development of agriculture in Africa and to a real green revolution on the continent.

Insecurity and conflict hinder human, and economic development. The Saharo-Sahelian region today presents some of the most daunting global security threats, which seriously undermine the stability and development of the region. The 2012-2013 crisis in northern Mali, though centred in one nation, epitomises the wider, cross-border dimension of these challenges. Here we point to some of the available policy responses towards their resolution.

A local non-government organisation is supporting rural development in Orientale Province in the north-east of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Called ACIAR (Help for Intercultural Communication and Rural Self-help*), its plan is to revive the coffee sector in the Ituri region as an inclusive response aimed at repairing the social and economic damage caused by a conflict that lasted from 1998 to 2004.

Failing to close the stable door

The recent scandal over the use of horsemeat in readymade meals that has shaken the entire European continent has revealed not only the complexity and opacity of our food supply chain, but also–and above all–the shortcomings of European food law.


Solving the food crisis

Eliminating hunger and malnutrition, and achieving wider global food security are among the most intractable problems humanity faces. While many once-poor countries are now developing rapidly, the world as a whole is unlikely to meet the first Millennium Development Goal target of halving, between 1990 and 2015, the proportion of the world’s population who suffer from hunger. 


There is growth potential in agriculture, and not just in the countryside. In fact, encouraging large-scale urban agriculture would plant the seeds of new growth and improve people’s lives as well.

Click to enlarge. By StiK, especially for the OECD Observer.

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