Future Food Security of China will have Huge Environmental Impacts, Finds Study

Great environmental impacts will be witnessed both domestically and globally while ensuring the future food security of China.

Future Food Security of China will have Huge Environmental Impacts, Finds Study.

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A study performed by scientists from the Institute for Applied Systems Analysis Biodiversity (IIASA) and Chinese collaborators has displayed that carefully designed policies throughout the whole of China’s food system, such as international trade, are vital to guarantee that future demand can be met without ruining the surrounding.

China is known to be one of the most heavily populated countries on Earth and supplying its increasing population with adequate food without causing damage to the surrounding is one of the greatest sustainability difficulties it experiences in the decades to come.

Domestic production makes a major contribution to the country’s food security, and imports are currently playing a vital role in satisfying China’s food demand. Particularly, relating to the increasing demand for livestock products like dairy and meat, which might have negative environmental effects on both China and the countries around the world.

The study authors recently reported their findings in the journal Nature Sustainability.

The authors analyzed this issue and have offered an extensive and advanced assessment of the environmental impacts of the increasing food demand of China on the country itself and its trading collaborators.

Assessing the impacts of future food demand requires comprehensive analyses of the agricultural sector, while tracking global environmental impacts calls for models representing trade with other regions individually. We focused on China in the global context, projecting the dynamic global future compared with other local models.

Hao Zhao, Study Lead Author, Integrated Biosphere Futures Research Group, International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis Biodiversity

Zhao is also collaboratively associated with the Natural Resources Program and the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

The authors feel that food demand in China is projected to consistently increase, particularly for livestock products and associated feed crops. In this context, pasture expansion, together with a connected increase in agricultural greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, will pose a considerable difficulty to sustainable domestic agricultural development.

Furthermore, the country’s growing belief in agricultural imports has effects on the global environment. The study discovered that by 2050, twice as much extra agricultural land will be “imported” to China in the form of agricultural products from abroad, compared to what would be domestically brought into production.

For particular countries, on average, nearly 30% of environmental difficulties will pertain to exports to China. For instance, 33% of greenhouse gas emissions, 48% of agricultural land from the agricultural sector in New Zealand, 11% of irrigation water from the United States and 16% of nitrogen use from Canada are projected to be exported to China by 2050.

The distribution of the environmental effects between China and the countries around the world would significantly rely on the development of trade openness. For example, in a globalized trade scenario developed in the study, more bovine meat imports from the United States and dairy imports from the European Union would result in less GHG emissions concerning a business-as-usual scenario.

On the downside, this scenario would also result in increased beef imports from Latin American countries where land footprints from the livestock sector seem to be high.

The scientists came to the conclusion that to address China’s food demand, the priority must be to sustainably offer more domestically produced food, particularly livestock products. Ruminant productivity has significant room for enhancement.

Furthermore, crop production and coupled livestock systems would profit both resources use and environmental sustainability through, among others, decreased nitrogen inputs and fewer pollutants. The scientists say that changing consumer preferences could also assist, even though there are several difficulties regarding both awareness of the people and the government’s promotion of such problems.

China’s rising demand for agricultural products is one of the greatest challenges on the way to reaching the Sustainable Development Goals, not only domestically, but also in Chinas trading partners. To reduce the global impacts, policies promoting both sustainable consumption and production need to be further pursued in China, and promoted globally, also through appropriate trade agreements.

Petr Havlik, Study Co-Author and Integrated Biosphere Futures Research Group Leader, International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis

In a globalized world, international trade tends to play a significant role in aiding socio-environmental interactions among countries. The scientists believe that their work could assist to encourage global sustainability and thereby help to ease the pressure on our fragile planet.

Journal Reference:

Zhao, H., et al. (2021) China’s future food demand and its implications for trade and environment. Nature Sustainability. doi.org/10.1038/s41893-021-00784-6.

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