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Food and land use

November 2019: Recent reports identify that benefits from redirecting agricultural subsidies to transform food systems outweigh the cost of inaction. It further argues that the cost of damage caused by currently incentivised agricultural methods is greater than the value of the food they produce.


Recent studies from the food and land use coalition explore the adverse effects of current agricultural subsidies. Public funding for agriculture and food totals at approximately $1 trillion per year at a global level with only 1% given to farmers benefitting the environment. The studies find that health and environmental benefits from redirecting subsidies outweigh the cost of inaction. Such transformation could provide a long-term solution for feeding a growing word population against the backdrop of climate change. Further, the study finds that the damage currently caused by agriculture is greater than the value of food they produce.

Implications & Opportunities

The reports emphasise how current subsidies are ineffective in protecting the environment and promote high-emission cattle production, de-forestation, and high uses of fertilizers. The report is strengthening calls to redirect financial incentives to measures such as capturing carbon, storing carbon in soil, producing healthier food, cutting waste, and growing trees. Inappropriate subsidies are significant contributors to climate change and the impairment of wildlife habitats but when well directed can provide significant opportunities to transform the food system.


The results should be seen within its methodological limitations. Subsidies are difficult to quantify by nature. The complex nature of subsidies obscures strategic recommendations in how to re-direct current subsidies; thus, requiring tailoring at the local level.


The Food and Land Use Coalition. (2019). Growing Better: Ten Critical Transitions to Transform Food and Land Use. Retrieved from

The Food and Land Use Coalition. (2019). Pathways to Sustainable Land-Use and Food Systems: Executive Summary. Retrieved from

The Guardian. (2019). $1m a Minute: The Farming Subsidies Destroying the World-Report. Retrieved from

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Adele Wiliams

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The views expressed in these external research papers are those of the authors and do not represent an official position of CISL, the University of Cambridge, or any of its individual business partners or clients.