October 18, 2013

Commentary - 2013 GAP Report: Challenges and Opportunities to Meet the Needs of 2050

This commentary is part of a series organized by The Chicago Council's Global Agricultural Development Initiative and the World Food Prize to examine the relationship between biotechnology, sustainability, and climate volatility in the lead up to this year's Borlaug Dialogue.

By Dr. Margaret Zeigler
Dr. Margaret Zeigler is executive director of the Global Harvest Initiative

On October 16, the Global Harvest Initiative released our 2013 Global Agricultural Productivity Report®(GAP Report®) at the World Food Prize Symposium in Des Moines, Iowa, before an audience of global scientists, agricultural industry experts, dignitaries, farmers, and development professionals. Many traveled from far and wide to attend the World Food Prize, and to learn and to meet new people that share their vision of improving global food and nutrition security.

It is always great to be a part of the World Food Prize and to experience first-hand the collective power of people around the world who are dedicated to addressing the global agricultural imperative. Each year I am left with a great sense of optimism.

The findings of the 2013 GAP Report also give reason for optimism, albeit cautious: over the past decade, countries are managing to maintain growth in agricultural productivity on global average. But those findings should not downplay the serious and urgent fact that we must maintain an increasing rate of global agricultural productivity year after year for the next 40 years.

The 2013 GAP Report includes GHI's updated GAP Index™, an annual snapshot of agricultural productivity growth measured against growth in global population and food demand. The GAP Index is based on the measurement of total factor productivity (TFP), the ratio of agricultural outputs to inputs. Total factor productivity rises when outputs increase and inputs remain constant.


Below are a few key findings of the 2013 GAP Report:

  • Since the 2012 GAP Report, the gap between East Asia’s food demand and agriculture production capacity narrowed slightly, but the region will need to meet its growing demand through imports and through continuous increases in productivity.
  • At current rates of productivity growth, Sub-Saharan Africa is projected to meet only 25 percent of food demand in 2030.
  • In Latin America and the Caribbean, overall regional production is expected to exceed demand by more than 50 percent with Brazil leading this increase in productivity. Output in Brazil is expected to be twice the projected demand by 2030, and Brazil will likely serve as a critical source of food and agricultural supply to meet the demand of China’s growing and more affluent and urban population. 

The 2013 GAP Report also finds significant differences in the rate of productivity growth depending on per capita gross national income and recommends country-level policy changes:

  • Low-income countries— Raising productivity will require creating environments friendly to new investments, technologies and practices, with a special focus on smallholder farmers and women. Continuing public-private partnerships and building agricultural research and extension capacity are key actions that low-income countries must take to improve TFP.
  • High-income countries— Maintaining investments in science-based technologies, including advances in genomics, irrigation, mechanization, and precision analytics, will protect past gains in TFP growth and ensure productivity does not fall behind in high-income countries.

For the first time, the 2013 GAP Report includes case studies that demonstrate the impact of five policy areas critical for meeting the food and nutrition needs of the future, including reducing trade barriers, promoting public- and private-sector investment, increasing investments in research, and coordinating international development assistance.  Many of these case studies demonstrate that with the right set of policies, investment and innovation we can meet and exceed the food and nutrition needs of 2050.

To learn more and to read the full 2013 GAP Report, we encourage you to visit the Global Harvest Initiative website.



The Global Food and Agriculture Program aims to inform the development of US policy on global agricultural development and food security by raising awareness and providing resources, information, and policy analysis to the US Administration, Congress, and interested experts and organizations.

The Global Food and Agriculture Program is housed within the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, an independent, nonpartisan organization that provides insight – and influences the public discourse – on critical global issues. The Council on Global Affairs convenes leading global voices and conducts independent research to bring clarity and offer solutions to challenges and opportunities across the globe. The Council is committed to engaging the public and raising global awareness of issues that transcend borders and transform how people, business, and governments engage the world.

Support for the Global Food and Agriculture Program is generously provided by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.


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