The State of Food Security and Agriculture 2023: Revealing the True Cost of Food to Transform Agri-Food Systems

Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO)
Resource type:
Reports and discussion papers

This year’s report introduces true cost accounting (TCA) as an approach to uncovering the hidden impacts of our agrifood systems on the environment, health, and livelihoods, so that agrifood systems actors are better informed and prepared before making decisions. There is always concern that if we consider all the hidden costs of producing food, prices will go up, but integrating these costs in the decision-making process, as well as in the incentives faced by producers and consumers, is part of a much larger process of agrifood systems transformation. TCA is about supporting the right investment decisions by countries and the private sector, to reduce existing costs instead of perpetuating them.

The 2023 report further highlights the methodological and data challenges that need to be addressed for greater adoption of TCA, especially in low- and lower-middle-income countries. It quantifies, to the extent possible, the hidden costs of national agrifood systems in a consistent and comparable way for 154 countries. These preliminary results cover hidden costs from greenhouse gas emissions, nitrogen emissions, blue water use, land-use transitions, and poverty, as well as losses in productivity caused by unhealthy dietary patterns and undernourishment.

The results in this report should not be viewed as a definitive assessment, but rather as a starting point for stimulating debate and dialogue. Indeed, while these results help us see the big picture of the hidden costs of agrifood systems, action to address these costs will have to be taken at country level. In this context, the next edition of The State of Food and Agriculture will aim to improve upon this initial preliminary quantification and analysis using country-specific information and input from in-country stakeholders and experts. This can then inform the planning for more in-depth, tailored analyses to guide transformational policy actions and investments in specific countries.

The pressing need to incorporate hidden costs into our decision-making processes, as part of the broader effort to transform the way our agrifood systems function, is underscored by the striking figures that already emerge from this year’s findings, despite their tentative nature and the aim of refinement in 2024. Preliminary results strongly suggest that the global hidden costs of our agrifood systems ‒ despite the exclusion of certain impacts and a considerable degree of uncertainty ‒ exceed USD 10 trillion.


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This resource has been peer reviewed