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Improve farming practices, rural infrastructure, and access to resources for food production to increase the productivity of agriculture, livestock, and fisheries, raise smallholder incomes, reduce environmental impacts, promote rural prosperity, and ensure resilience to climate change.

Targets and Indicators

6a. Ensure sustainable food production systems with high yields and high efficiency of water, soil nutrients, and energy, supporting nutritious diets with low food losses and waste.*

50. Crop yield gap (actual yield as % of attainable yield)

51. Crop nitrogen use efficiency (%)

52. [Crop water productivity (tons of harvested product per unit irrigation water)] – Indicator to be developed

53. Global Food Loss Indicator [or other indicator to be developed to track the share of food lost or wasted in the value chain after harvest]

6b. Halt forest and wetland conversion to agriculture, protect soil resources, and ensure that farming systems are resilient to climate change and disasters.*

54. Annual change in forest area and land under cultivation (modified MDG Indicator)

55. Annual change in degraded or desertified arable land (% or ha)

56. Losses from disasters in rural areas, by climate and non-climate-related events (in US$ and in lives lost)

6c. Ensure universal access in rural areas to basic resources and infrastructure services (land, water, sanitation, modern energy, transport, mobile and broadband communication, agricultural inputs, and advisory services).

57. Percentage of rural population using basic drinking water (modified MDG Indicator)

58. Percentage of rural population using basic sanitation services (modified MDG Indicator)

59. [Percentage of women and men in rural areas with secure rights to land, measured by (i) percentage with documented rights to land, and (ii) percentage who do not fear arbitrary dispossession of land]— Indicator to be developed

60. Access to all-weather road (% access within [x] km distance to road)

61. Mobile broadband subscriptions per 100 inhabitants in rural areas

62. [Access to drying, storage and processing facilities]— Indicator to be developed

63. Number of agriculture extension workers per 1000 farmers [or share of farmers covered by agricultural extension programs and services]

Evidence

The food system remains one of the greatest challenges for sustainable development that must be addressed if hunger and extreme poverty are to be ended, and if we are not to lose ground in the face of rising population and environmental degradation. The problems are many, varied, and complex. First, the global food system is under considerable stress. Human-induced climate change, water scarcity and pollution, loss of biodiversity, ocean acidification, and other environmental dangers all threaten our ability to feed the world population. Too much agricultural produce is lost or wasted due to inefficient harvesting and processing, lack of storage, and spoilage. Inadequate fishing techniques result in high levels of by-catch and waste as well as unacceptable destruction of marine ecosystems. Diversity has been lost from many farming systems and diets. On the demand side, more food is wasted due to spoilage and poor nutrition is contributing to the growing obesity epidemics in rich and poor countries alike. In many poor countries, smallholder farmers go hungry because they do not produce enough food to feed their families and lack alternative sources of income. The urban poor suffer because they cannot afford adequate nutrition and food supply.

Second, the demands on the global food system are rising rapidly. By 2050 another 2 billion or more people might need to be fed. At the same time, per capita food consumption is rising rapidly because people can afford to buy more food and because they increasingly prefer meat and other protein-rich food, which requires much more grain to be produced. Moreover, poorly targeted policies for biofuels can further increase the strain on the food system.

Third, the food system is itself a major cause of environmental stress that presses against planetary boundaries (see Goal 2). Farming, animal husbandry, aquaculture, and fishing contribute to large-scale greenhouse gas emissions, loss of habitat and biodiversity, overuse and pollution of freshwater, deforestation and desertification, over-fishing, excess fluxes of nitrogen and phosphorus, and other unsustainable practices. We therefore face a vicious cycle in which unsustainable farming practices worsen many environmental conditions that in turn reduce agricultural productivity and exacerbate environmental damage.

Farming is also the main livelihood of the poor and a mainstay of many countries’ economies. When farming is productive, poverty is reduced. When farming is unproductive and is buffeted by environmental stresses, poverty is intensified. Therefore, improvements in the productivity of farms and food processing constitute one of the most important pathways to eradicate extreme poverty, including hunger in rural areas as well as in cities where abundant affordable food increases the purchasing power and health status among the urban poor. In many countries, smallholder farmers are predominantly women who may face discrimination (e.g. in land rights or access to financing) that must be addressed to realize the economic and social potential of agriculture.

The economic potential of agriculture goes of course beyond poverty eradication. The experience of many upper-middle-income countries demonstrates that a well-developed agriculture sector, including food processing, can support prosperous rural areas and high living standards. So it would be a mistake for countries to base their growth strategies solely on urban areas.

It is difficult to predict demand for food since projections depend on dietary choices – such as the role of meat products in the diet – as well as on demographic trends and demand for biofuels. Current UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimates suggest that the global net food supply might need to rise by 60 percent by 2050, though with healthy dietary changes the overall increase of necessary grain production could be less. Many developing countries might have to double net food production over this period. In many regions, however, food losses in the value chain and at the end-consumer can be significantly reduced. The promotion of healthy eating habits (see Goal 5), particularly reducing dairy and cattle intake where it is currently excessive, will further reduce the need for more grain production and will improve health outcomes if excess meat and dairy products are replaced by legumes, fruits, vegetables, nuts, poultry, and fish.

Yet, substantial increases in food production will surely be needed with an emphasis on non-grain products, and such increases must be achieved without significantly expanding agricultural land or water use, thereby destroying or degrading ecosystems (see also Goal 9). Increased food production must also anticipate the threats of unavoidable climate change and enable farmers to adapt to the increasing frequency and severity of natural disasters. These productivity gains will require unprecedented investments in increased crop yields and animal productivity; more resource-efficient production systems and value chains including expanded and improved irrigation; improved resilience to climate change; and drastically reduced post-harvest losses.

Major productivity gains will be essential to improve the economic potential of agriculture and keep food prices within reach for the poor. These improvements will only be possible if all farmers – particularly smallholder farmers and women – have access to land, high-quality inputs, and technical advice. Land resources should be carefully managed to avoid “land grabs” (see Goal 9). Farming must become an attractive business and job opportunity for everyone involved.

Putting these pieces together shows that sustainable increases in agricultural productivity are a central challenge for every region of the world. Making agriculture sustainable and resilient and achieving the needed increases in food production are vital to achieving all other SDGs. Adopting best management practices that stay within planetary boundaries is as equally vital for poor smallholder farmers as for large agricultural business in high-income countries. Such best practices will help protect the environment, reduce hunger, raise rural prosperity, and end extreme poverty.

There is no “one-size-fits-all” strategy for sustainable agriculture. Farming systems and choices farmers make – including with regards to crop varieties, land use, soil nutrient management, biodiversity conservation, water use, harvesting methods, and food processing and marketing – are highly varied and depend on local conditions. Every region and locality requires its own diagnostics and approaches, though it can draw upon lessons from other regions and a toolkit of advanced agricultural principles and technologies. As in other SDGs, technology will play a vital role in enabling agriculture to become more productive and sustainable. Genetic improvement, soil mapping, precision dosing of fertilizers, agricultural advisory systems, weather forecasting, machinery, and reduced post-harvest food losses are all areas where technologies, including ICT, can play an important role.

To ensure rural prosperity and productive agriculture, countries will need to ensure universal access to basic infrastructure in rural areas, including a safe water supply, universal access to sanitation and an end to open defecation, modern energy services (including electricity and clean cooking fuels), modern transport, and connectivity to mobile telecommunications and broadband. In many areas, modern technologies offer opportunities for leapfrogging to cleaner and more efficient energy, transport, and water infrastructure. Improved transport, storage, logistics, and communications can help to reduce food losses and improve rural-urban linkages that are vital for reducing poverty and promoting economic development.

Ongoing climate change will underscore the importance of adaptation to ensure resilient agriculture and infrastructure. Infrastructure built today must be designed to withstand much higher temperatures, more frequent extreme precipitation, and high variability in water supply, which affects power infrastructure in particular. To minimize agricultural productivity losses resulting from climate change, particularly in low-latitude regions, governments and businesses must invest in research and development of new drought and heat resistant crops, improved water management infrastructure, and new farming techniques.

Sources

FAQs

What is transformative about goal 6 “Improve Agricultural Systems and Raise Rural Prosperity”?
This goal covers a broad but deeply interconnected set of challenges pertaining to sustainable agriculture and sustainable development. By focusing squarely on agriculture, the goal goes significantly beyond MDG 1, which only focused on hunger. The goal adopts an integrated approach to rural development by including a broad range of key infrastructure services that underpin agriculture and value chains – the economic bedrock of rural development in developed and developing countries alike- and that promote human well-being.

Key transformations we include under this goal are increasing the efficiency of agricultural inputs in both industrial and smallholder-scale enterprises, increasing the coverage of crop insurance schemes, and restoring agricultural ecosystems while halting land degradation and conversion of natural ecosystems for agriculture. On the infrastructure side we expand the focus to mobile broadband, a key enabling technology for economic and social development.

By combining key environmental challenges, relating to conversion of forests and wetlands to agricultural land, the degradation of agricultural land, and integrated water resources management with agriculture, this innovative goal will promote integrated and sustainable rural development. The goal is based on the experience that only integrated approaches to sustainable agriculture and food production can be successful, in developed and developing countries alike.

Why is there no stand-alone goal on infrastructure?
Access to infrastructure is essential for ending extreme poverty in all its forms and promoting sustainable development. The proposed SDGs divide the challenges of providing access to infrastructure between urban (SDG 7) and rural (SDG 6) areas. This division is motivated by the fact that infrastructure technologies, delivery models, and responsible actors vary significantly between urban and rural areas.

How do the proposed goals deal with water supply and water resources management?
Providing access to safe water and sanitation, ensuring sound management of freshwater resources, and preventing water pollution are inter-related priority challenges of sustainable development that must be met for other goals and targets to be achieved. All three must become central components of the SDGs:

  • Water access: Delivery models, technologies, and responsible actors for access to water and sanitation differ between urban and rural areas, so we propose to assign these challenges to the urban and rural goals, respectively. This has the added advantage of combining water supply and sanitation, which are often closely linked.
  • Water resources management: Integrated water resources management and the allocation of water across different uses is a cross-cutting requirement for all goals. Freshwater needs for agriculture (accounting for some 70 percent of freshwater withdrawals), industry, households, and the healthy functioning of ecosystems (sometimes referred to as “green water”) stand out as major challenges. Moreover, water-related disasters, such as floods and droughts, account for a large share of damage from natural disasters. Water resources management and associated disaster risk management cannot be pursued in isolation from the management of agriculture, cities, and ecosystems, so water is part of several goals. The proposed SDG 9 emphasizes the need for integrated water resources management. A suitable indicator for Target 9c might include the ratio of freshwater withdrawals to renewable freshwater supply which should be lower than one.
  • Water pollution: Water pollution is a separate management challenge. Although not limited to urban areas, water pollution is a significant urban challenge and is therefore included under SDG 7.

The question of how to deal with water challenges in the proposed SDGs has been intensely discussed in the Leadership Council. Some have argued for a stand-alone water goal partly to draw attention to the importance of water management. Overall, though, we believe that our proposals provide a sound basis for managing the various water challenges within the framework of ten SDGs, particularly if suitable indicators track the sustainable use of water resources, access to water supply, and water quality.

Why do some goals focus on outcomes whereas others focus on outputs or means?
Where possible, the SDGs should focus on outcomes, such as ending extreme poverty. Yet, the distinction between outcomes, outputs, and inputs needs to be handled pragmatically, and the design of goals and targets should be – we believe – guided by approaches that are best suited to mobilize action and ensure accountability. For example, ensuring universal access to healthcare or high-quality early childhood development (ECD) are important commitments for every government. Goals and targets that focus on these outputs will ensure operational focus and accountability. In some instances it also makes sense to target inputs. For example, official development assistance (ODA) is critical for ensuring many SDGs and needs to be mobilized in every high-income country. Mobilizing resources for sustainable development is difficult, so subsuming ODA as an implicit input into every SDG would make it harder for government leaders, citizens, and civil society organizations to argue for increased ODA. It would also weaken accountability for rich countries. Similar considerations apply, for example, to the proposed target on integrated reporting by governments and businesses on their contributions to the SDGs.

What does reducing to “zero” or “universal access” mean?
Many targets call for “universal access” (e.g. to infrastructure) or “zero” deprivation (e.g. extreme poverty, hunger). For each such target, the technical communities and member states will need to define the precise quantitative standard for their commitment to “universal access” or “zero” deprivation. We hope that in most cases these standards will indeed be 100 percent or 0 percent, respectively, but there may be areas where it is technically impossible to achieve 100 percent access or 0 percent deprivation. In such cases countries should aim to get as close as possible to 100 percent or 0 percent, respectively.

Why are some targets not quantified and marked with an asterisk? Why do some targets have numbers in square brackets?
It is important that every target can be measured at the national or local level, but not every target can be defined globally in a meaningful way, for three distinct reasons:

i. The starting points may differ too much across countries for a single meaningful quantitative standard at the global level;
ii. Some targets need to be adapted and quantified locally or may be relevant only in subsets of countries (e.g. those that refer to specific ecosystems);
iii. For some targets no global consensus exists today, and these still need to be negotiated, as is the case with greenhouse gas emission reduction targets. In the meantime, countries should establish their own plans and targets.

In some cases proposed numerical targets are presented in square brackets since these numbers are preliminary and may need to be reviewed by the corresponding technical communities.