Emergency steps help maintain food supply

PARIS: Emergency measures by governments helped keep food supply functioning during the Covid-19 pandemic, but agricultural policies continue to pour out subsidies inefficiently without encouraging sustainable production, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development said on Tuesday.

As coronavirus spread last year, countries took various steps including the creation of so-called green lanes for cross-border food transport and increased food aid for households, the OECD said.

“As a result, policies were generally successful in maintaining the overall functioning of food supply chains, albeit within an overall structure of agricultural support programmes that showed little change,” the OECD said in an annual survey of farming policy. Reviewing 54 advanced and emerging economies, the Paris-based organisation estimated that a total of $720 billion per year was transferred to agriculture during 2018-2020.

Three-quarters of this support was in aid for farmers, most of which was through what the OECD sees as market-distorting instruments like price controls or production subsidies. Only about 14% of total support for the farm sector went towards structural areas like research and development, the OECD said. Support rewarding environmental services were relatively marginal, with just $1.5 billion out of $268 billion per year in budgetary payments to producers clearly tied to such services, it estimated.

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“Overall, most current support policies are not serving the wider needs of food systems,” the OECD said.

The OECD study echoed criticisms by the European Court of Auditors in a report on Monday that the European Union’s huge farm subsidy programme is failing to rein in greenhouse gas emissions.

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