Repurposing agriculture support to improve nutrition, health, and the environment

This discussion paper seeks to inform the debate around rebalancing and repurposing today’s public sector support for the agricultural sector and looks at the potential role repurposing agricultural support could play in promoting both human and planetary health.

The redirecting of agriculture sector activities raises important questions. For example, to what extent could a realignment of resources deliver significant benefits to making nutrient-rich diets available to all, particularly those in LMICs? At the same time, could subsidies play a significant role in the drive towards sustainable food systems by helping to repair the planet’s environmental systems? 


Worldwide, the agriculture sector receives USD $700 billion or more in annual public financial support. There is considerable potential for this support to be repurposed to promote the health of populations, and to benefit the environment.


This paper draws on a model-based analysis of different options for reforming agricultural subsidies which are in line with health and environmental objectives to argue that the many benefits to be had from reallocating agriculture sector support should become a key part of the ongoing dialogue on food system transformation. Given the food system’s increasing health and environmental burden, maintaining the status quo is not an option. However, due to the complex interactions between subsidies and food systems, policy makers will have to adopt a nuanced approach that addresses potential trade-offs among multiple objectives when determining priorities for change.

The possible repurposing of subsidies needs to be considered within the wider context of other forms of agricultural support. In particular, there is a case for programmes to include more support for research and development to promote innovation for sustainable agri-food systems.

Alongside this discussion paper, The Global Panel co-hosted an affiliated session with the World Bank at the UNFSS Pre-Summit which discussed the potential role that realignment of public agricultural support could play in promoting both human and planetary health – a link to the recording is here.