Ten Problems for Agriculture in the 2020s

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Literature Review: Agriculture Problems for the 2020s

The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) wrote in a recent 2019 open commentary [1] that three main issues are being faced by Agriculture at global level for the next decade: 1) provide food for a growing population, expected in the region of 10 billion people by 2050; 2) provide economic sustenance for workers, especially in developing and emerging countries; 3) mitigate its huge environmental footprint, in particular water consumption (at 70% of the world total) and greenhouse emissions (at 11% of the world total).

Policies can create synergies or trade-offs between competing objectives, that’s why OECD invited all the stakeholders (including farmers, traders, food manufacturers, consumer representatives, agricultural input suppliers, researchers, environmental Non-Governmental Organizations or NGOs, and policy makers) to a Global Forum on Agriculture in May 2019 [2].

The Forum’s Summary Record [3] reports that, as expected, stakeholders at different level in the global food chain have different problems and ask for local solutions. Among others, they mention long-term vs short-term objectives, the destination of public money, trade deals and tariffs, environmental sustainability of the supply chain, food security for disadvantaged sectors of the general public, food safety and food waste in countries not following the best practices.

Solutions were invoked for better infrastructures at local level, improved scientific and technological support, fairer international trade deals, more balanced approaches to health issues like obesity on one end and famine on the other end of the consumer spectrum. Subsequent panels extended the debate, but the final remarks by the Head of the Agro-food Trade and Markets Division in the OECD Trade and Agriculture Directorate, Prof Jonathan Brooks, suggested that much is still needed in terms of cooperation, case studies and wider global effort to generate appreciable results, in that calling for updates at a United Nations (UN) Food Systems Summit in 2021.

Unofficial aggregations and lobbies are also making their voice heard worldwide, here in particular the Union of Concerned Scientists through a written contribution on Agriculture for the United States in the coming decade [4]. It reports that climate change will impact heavy a system model that already “neglects soils, reduces diversity, and relies too heavily on fertilizers and pesticides”. In particular, altered temperature and precipitation patterns are expected to cause floods, droughts, crop and livestock viability, novel threats from unexpected pest, pathogens or weed insurgence. These will be exacerbated by degraded soils, simplified landscapes and intensive inputs.

The COVID-19 pandemic has added to the food security challenges posed by climate change and major conflicts, both of which have been major factors contributing to recent food insecurity [5]. Despite growing stocks of foods such as cereals, it has been estimated that the number of people facing a food crisis will grow from 135 million to 265 million by the end of 2020. Concerns about shortages of labor and food safety will intensify efforts to use automation at all stages in the food production system to ensure supply. The response to transport and trade disruption may prompt accelerated efforts to develop protected cropping to support food production much closer to the point of consumption.

Starting from such general references, this booklet identifies ten relevant areas from very recent contributions put forward at academic level in the form journal articles, conference proceedings and students theses. Ten freely accessible internet references have been selected for each area and direct links are provided at the end of each chapter for own consultation. Our selected references do not intend to mirror ranking indexes nor establish novel classifications. On the contrary, they are meant to represent peer-reviewed, diverse and scientifically-sound case studies for vertical dissemination aimed at non-specialist readers. They will also be able to scoop even more references through the bibliography that is reported at the end of each selected reference.

Without further ado, these are the “Ten Problems for Agriculture in the 2020s” that we are going to introduce in this booklet:

  1. climate change, 
  2. precision agriculture,
  3. crop planning,
  4. climate-smart,
  5. soil ecosystem,
  6. entrepreneurship,
  7. competitiveness,
  8. sustainability,
  9. developing countries,
  10. biological control.

Each problem has its own dedicated chapter made of an introductory section, a short presentation of the ten selected references and a conclusions section.

The final chapter of this booklet will report the conclusions from each chapter again in order to provide a complete executive summary.


[1] OECD, “Three key challenges facing agriculture and how to start solving them”, 2019, , online, consulted on 01 Jan 2020

[2] OECD, “OECD Global Forum on Agriculture 2019: Policy Priorities for the Global Food System”, 2019,  , online, consulted on 01 Jan 2020

[3] OECD, “Summary Record of the OECD Global Forum on Agriculture 14 May 2019“, 2019, online at 

[4] Union of Concerned Scientists, “Climate Change and Agriculture – A Perfect Storm in Farm Country”, 2019, , online,  consulted on 01 Jan 2020

[5] R. Henry, “Innovations in Agriculture and Food Supply in Response to the COVID-19 Pandemic”, 2020, Molecular Plant 13, 1095–1097, online at

“Ten Problems for Agriculture in the 2020s” booklet for Amazon Kindle, 2020; click on the cover to go to the dedicated Amazon listing page

booklet updated on 5 Dec 2020, now on sale as version 1.1