Agricultural productivity is an increasingly hot topic worldwide, particularly after last week's G20 Summit (read the Interagency Report on increasing agricultural production). If current estimates of global population growth are correct, farmers will need to roughly double the world's current food production in order to feed 9 billion people by 2050. Climate change presents an additional challenge, with changing weather patterns and severe weather events undermining farmers' ability to even maintain current production levels.

The 2011 Horn of Africa food crisis brought the stark reality of weather-related shocks to the world’s attention, as the region’s worst drought in 60 years led to widespread crop failures and skyrocketing food prices and plunged millions of people into severe hunger and malnutrition. An early, effective response could have prevented the kind of widespread tragedy seen in the Horn of Africa in 2011, reducing mortality rates and malnutrition of young children, as well as helping families get back on their feet after the drought.

As the 2012 G20 Summit begins today in Los Cabos, Mexico, governments and institutions around the world are urging G20 leaders to focus on food security and nutrition. According to IFPRI's 2011 Global Hunger Index, hunger remains a devastating problem in many areas of the world: more than 50 countries are experiencing "extremely alarming," "alarming," or "serious" levels of hunger.

With the world facing continued population growth and the specter of climate change, food prices and food security are issues of growing global importance. The 2007-2008 and 2010-2011 food price crises have had lasting impacts on the face of the global food security environment; since 2001, food price volatility has been at its highest level in 50 years, and the uncertainty caused by this volatility is particularly detrimental for the world’s poor.

Increasing global agricultural productivity faces many challenges, including a growing global population, increasing incomes (and thus increased demand for more labor- and resource-intensive foods such as meat and dairy), and climate change. Finding ways to sustainably increase agricultural production, particularly in developing countries, is crucial for food security.

The importance of global food security is being reinforced in various global venues, from the G8 summit last week to the upcoming Rio+20 conference. The upcoming G20 meetings in Mexico will also bring increased attention to the challenge of food security, addressing ways to increase food production and agricultural productivity on a sustainable basis to promote food security and foster economic growth worldwide.

It is being increasingly recognized that real, sustainable economic growth and food security requires input from both the public and the private sectors. However, much of the private sector in developed countries has historically been hesitant to invest in developing nations, particularly in riskier ventures such as agriculture.

The global economic environment has been characterized in recent years by high debt levels, financial volatility, high levels of risk, and a persistent development gap. With the world still reeling from the recent economic downturn, achieving sustainable economic growth remains a formidable challenge for developing countries. Worldwide economic growth in 2012 is expected to remain moderate, with weak growth in most developed countries and slowing growth in the developing world.

A major challenge to food security worldwide is a dearth of accurate, timely information. Without reliable information regarding world agricultural markets, production, and stocks, policymakers may engage in harmful policies such as export bans or panic buying, only serving to further drive up food prices and price volatility.

Price volatility in agricultural commodity markets has received a lot of attention in the past year. (For more information on food price volatility, see the Excessive Food Price Variability Early Warning System.) As part of the 2011 G20 Action Plan, the Agriculture Ministers agreed on several initiatives to address high food prices and price volatility.