Uneven farm productivity report shows COVID impacts

Science Notes: Some countries more vulnerable to pandemic-scale outbreaks than others.

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The 2020 Global Agricultural Productivity Report (GAP Report) — Productivity in a Time of Pandemics — released by the Virginia Tech College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, raises concerns about the resilience of agricultural systems in the face of pandemic-scale outbreaks that afflict people, crops, and livestock.

New data from the United States Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service presented in the report indicate that globally, total factor productivity (TFP) is increasing by an average annual rate of 1.63 per cent, unchanged from 2019.

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This is below the target of 1.73 per cent required to double agricultural output through productivity growth from 2010 to 2050 as set by the report’s Global Agricultural Productivity Index (GAP Index).

TFP growth varies widely across the world, leaving some countries more vulnerable to pandemic-scale outbreaks than others.

In high-income countries, TFP is increasing at 1.19 per cent annually.

The traditional productivity powerhouses in North America and Europe have distinct advantages in times of pandemics. Advanced seed technologies, veterinary services and animal care, and accurate agronomic and market data, make it easier for producers to adapt in a time of crisis.

Access to affordable insurance and financing, as well as safety net programs, enable producers to absorb the worst financial impacts of a pandemic-scale crisis.

High-income countries have infrastructures for detection, management, and eradication of pests and disease outbreaks in people, crops, and livestock. Agricultural extension networks and robust research systems develop preventive tools and practices to keep pandemics at bay.

In upper-middle income countries, TFP is growing at an average annual rate of 2.37 per cent, driven largely by China and Brazil, the report said.

In Brazil, precision agriculture, advanced seed technologies, and improved livestock management systems have driven substantial TFP growth in feed grains and livestock production.

The report indicated that the Chinese government has prioritized the consolidation of agricultural land, creating opportunities for greater efficiency, especially in the wheat-growing regions. Mechanization services and fertilizer use efficiency have also improved, generating productivity gains.

The TFP data do not yet reflect the impact of the African swine fever outbreak that has killed 40 per cent of China’s swine population, but it will likely be significant.

Lower-middle income countries are also experiencing TFP growth above the global average at 2.19 per cent, led by India, which has invested heavily in agricultural research and higher education.

The presence of advanced technologies and agricultural research systems in middle-income countries supports resilience in the face of pandemics. Nevertheless, there are significant vulnerabilities, for example, underdeveloped or inefficient infrastructures for detection, management, and eradication of pests and disease outbreaks.

TFP growth in low-income countries has dropped from one per cent in 2019 to just 0.58 per cent in 2020.

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