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The fight against the COVID-19 pandemic is causing unprecedented uncertainties in global food-supply chains. That includes potential bottlenecks in labor markets, input industries, agriculture production, food processing, transport and logistics, and shifts in demand for food and food services, according to a new report by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. The short-term economic and social impacts of the pandemic interrupt the generally positive medium-term outlook for global production and consumption.

In the next 10 years supply growth will outpace demand, causing real prices of most commodities to remain at or less than current levels. Fluctuations in the driving factors of supply and demand could lead to strong price variations. A decrease in disposable incomes in low-income countries and households caused by COVID-19 is expected to depress demand in the early years of the 10-year outlook and could further undermine food security.

An expanding global population remains the main driver of demand growth. Average per capita food availability by 2029 is projected to reach about 3,000 kilocalories and 85 grams of protein per day. Due to the ongoing transition in global diets toward greater consumption of animal products, fats and other foods, the share of staples in the food basket is projected to decline by 2029 for all income groups. Environmental and health concerns in wealthier countries are expected to support a transition from animal-based protein toward alternative sources of protein.

Open and transparent international markets will be increasingly important for food security, especially in countries where imports account for a large share of their total calorie and protein consumption. A well-functioning, predictable international trade system can help ensure global food security and allow producers in exporting countries to thrive. 

About 85 percent of global crop-output growth in the next decade is expected to come from yield improvements resulting from greater input use, investments in production technology, and better cultivation practices. Multiple harvests per year will account for another 10 percent of crop-output growth, leaving just 5 percent to cropland expansion.

Global livestock production is expected to expand by 14 percent, faster than the projected increase in animal numbers. Feed use will expand in line with aquaculture and livestock production as feed-efficiency improvements will be counterbalanced by an increase in feed intensity due to reduced backyard farming.

The outlook underscores the continuing need to invest in building productive, resilient and sustainable food systems in the face of uncertainties. Beyond COVID-19, current challenges include the locust invasion in East Africa and Asia, the continued spread of African swine fever, more frequent extreme climatic events, and trade tensions among major trading powers. The food system also will need to adapt to evolving diets and consumer preferences. It will need to take advantage of digital innovations in agriculture- and food-supply chains. 

Assuming the continuation of current policies and technologies agricultural greenhouse-gas emissions are projected to grow by 0.5 percent annually, indicating a reduction in agriculture's carbon intensity. Without additional efforts the slowdown will still fall short of what the agricultural sector could do to contribute to the Paris Agreement targets for fighting climate change. Visit fao.org and search for "OECD-FAO Agricultural Outlook" for more information.