Food Security, Poverty Reduction and Economic Transformation: Time for Sustained Action by G20


December 9, 2022

In 2022, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen called on many occasions the need to strengthen global collaboration for tackling food insecurity, most notably at the G20 High-Level Seminar held in July 2022, under the Indonesian presidency. Her arguments carry considerable weight and likelihood of real outcomes and impacts than our appeals made previously, so I outline both perspectives, showing the overlap between and differences among them. Secretary Yellen stressed the extremely difficult time for global food security, already under pressure from conflict, climate change, and economic shocks associated with COVID-19. Russia’s war against Ukraine has exacerbated the challenges leading to a global crisis of food insecurity as prices spiked for food, fertilizer, and fuel. Those most directly impacted are the poorest households in the poorest countries facing severe fiscal constraints. These effects are setting back development and undermining efforts to eradicate poverty.[1]

She called on all to act both on the short-term food insecurity crisis and the longer-term drivers of food insecurity, including the nexus with climate change.”[2]   Her three pronged approach includes:

First, G20 countries should set the example by avoiding counterproductive policy responses, such as export restrictions and stockpiling, which distort markets and further drive-up prices. Notably, the United States has also been party to such practices. Secretary Yellen urged the careful targeting of support for vulnerable households rather than employing blanket subsidies that are regressive and costly

Second, she urged leveraging the existing food security and agriculture architecture “We do not need new institutions. We need robust coordination, knowledge sharing, research and development, financing, and action.” Her second plea relates directly to our book, Food for All.[3] We could not agree more. Secretary Yellen additionally proposed “that G20 deputies consider how to enhance cooperation between G20 finance ministries and the relevant other authorities, including by improving data transparency.”[2]

Third, she stressed G20 countries must take steps to provide additional financial assistance and highlighted how the United States has already committed additional resources to EBRD, GAFSP, AfDB and IFAD. She acknowledged that much more work remains to be done to eliminate hunger and poverty beyond responding to the current crisis.[2]

Based on a long-term structural view of the development process articulated in our book, Food for All, in October 2021, I had argued in a Brookings blog that we need sustained increased investment in food and agriculture in developing countries and in international organizations that support them and outlined several reasons why.[4]

First, the recent setbacks in investments took place when the speed of progress toward poverty reduction and economic transformation was already slowing, in tandem with subdued global economic growth. Second, the challenge is made harder by the fact that extreme poverty is concentrated in parts of the world where it will be hardest to eradicate poverty, namely, in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, in conflict-affected areas, and in rural areas.

To address these complex challenges, I had argued that strengthened international cooperation, backed by financial resources on a sustained basis, is more urgent than ever, including,

particularly, within “the Big Five international organizations” established in the post-Second World War period (World Bank/IDA, FAO, World Food Programme, CGIAR, IFAD). Their roles remain important, although their resources have shrunk in relation to the growing magnitude of the challenge. Besides current income levels are not sufficient to achieve nutritious food for three billion people. Transformative changes are needed in the food systems to achieve nutritious food for all. The role of international organizations has declined relative to the growing needs because their own resources have not grown commensurately with the needs.

We suggested:

  1. Getting domestic policy strategy frameworks right and implement them consistently over the long haul.
  2. Increasing domestic human and institutional capacity
  3. Abandoning autarchical policies.
  4. Mobilizing domestic and international capital in support of employment-oriented sectors.
  5. Supporting international organizations.

Secretary Yellen proposes requesting the World Bank to develop an “ambitious response road map” with new strategies, policies, and approaches for its shareholders to be reviewed in early 2023. Addressing this challenge will be a test for the World Bank, albeit a critical mission.


*President, International Association of Agricultural Economists; formerly Senior Advisor, World Bank

[1] US Dept. of Treasury. 2022. “Remarks by Secretary of the Treasury Janet L. Yellen at G20 High Level Seminar on Strengthening Global Collaboration for Tackling Food Insecurity.”  July 15.
[2] US Dept. of Treasury. 2022.
[3] Uma Lele, Manmohan Agarwal, Brian Baldwin, and Sambuddha Goswami. 2021. Food for All: International Organizations and the Transformation of Agriculture. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
[4]Uma Lele. 2021. “Why we need increased investment in food and agriculture in developing countries and international organizations that support them.” Brookings Blog, October 26.

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  1. Chandrashekhar Ranade

    Consumption habits of rich in developing countries is one of the major problems and something needs to be done to reduce food consumption by such people. Barry Popkin’s book ” The World is Fat” approaches this problem correctly and G20 can take a lead on training rich people how to eat less and well.

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