From MDGs to SDGs: Inducting Sustainable Agriculture in the Battle Against Poverty & Hunger


As the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) approach their expiry date in 2015 and the world prepares for the Post – 2015 scenario by drawing up a set of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), it is prudent to reflect on the lessons emerging from the MDG experience. These lessons will prove important in framing the SDGs in such a manner that they are geared for success with not just ambitious yet achievable targets, but also requisite focus on the means of implementation and avenues for international cooperation.

One of the major criticisms of the MDGs has been their near exclusive focus on social outcomes and neglect of issues regarding environmental sustainability, the production sector and economic development, even though these form the foundation and enabling systems for the sustainable realisation of the social outcomes. For example, the world is set to miss the MDG on poverty and hunger reduction by a wide margin and one of the reasons being proffered for the same is that the goal did not adequately focus on agricultural development as central to the achievement of the goal. It is important that the ongoing global dialogue on SDGs focuses as much on the means of implementation and enabling systems as on the goals and targets.

The list of issues that the Rio+20 declaration has suggested to be addressed in the SDGs already point to a positive approach of looking at goal areas holistically along with their possible means of implementation. For example, one goal area that can be considered a successor to the MDG on eradication of extreme poverty and hunger is ‘food security, nutrition and sustainable agriculture’ – underscoring the critical role of sustainable agriculture in delivering long term solutions for food and nutrition security and poverty alleviation. Research by the World Bank indicates that growth in the agriculture sector generates over double the gains in poverty reduction as compared to other sectors. When this analysis is juxtaposed against the fact that majority of the world’s poor are dependent on agriculture for their livelihood, it becomes clear why investing in agricultural development is critical for meeting poverty reduction targets.

The word ‘sustainable’ in this goal area is critical. Agriculture will have to shift to becoming more sustainable i.e. more resource efficient and less polluting forms that in the long run do not endanger the very production systems. In particular, the availability of water is expected to become a major limiting factor in efforts to increase agricultural productivity and thus achieving improved water productivity will be crucial to the growth of the sector. Promotion of production systems that draw more effectively on production ecology principles and are based on ecosystem approaches that conserve, manage and enhance natural resources is the need of the hour.

It is estimated that agricultural output will have to increase by 60% to be able to feed the world population in 2050. As the scope for increasing land area under cultivation is limited, most of this additional food will have to come from increase in yields and cropping intensities. Considering that 85% of farmers worldwide are smallholders with less than 2 hectares of land, there will need to be a strong emphasis on increasing the productivity of smallholder agriculture. The Zero Hunger Challenge launched by the UN Secretary General corroborates this by stating as one of its objectives, the promotion of growth in the productivity and income of smallholder farmers.

A diversity of solutions for increasing agricultural productivity through sustainable intensification already exists. The challenge for the post 2015 agenda will be to promote the scaling of these solutions through support in the form of improved market infrastructure, public and private investment and cooperation for technology and knowledge transfer. Most importantly, farmers have to be made central to the efforts and adequate investment has to be made on their capacity building and for securing access to knowhow, inputs, services and finances.


  • The Post-2015 Development Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goal Position (Farming First Coalition)
  • Post 2015 and MDGs – Nourishing People, Nurturing the Planet (FAO)
  • Food Security, Nutrition and Sustainable Agriculture in the Post-2015 Development Agenda – Priority Targets and Indicators (FAO, IFAD and WFP)

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