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Environ Sci Technol. 2019 Feb 5;53(3):1385-1393. doi: 10.1021/acs.est.8b04375. Epub 2019 Jan 22.

Exploring Future Food Provision Scenarios for China.

Author information

Key Laboratory of Agricultural Water Resources, Center for Agricultural Resources Research , Institute of Genetics and Developmental Biology, Chinese Academy of Sciences , Shijiazhuang 050021 , China.
College of Resources and Environmental Sciences , Hebei Agricultural University , Baoding 071001 , China.
Center for Resources, Environment and Food Security , China Agricultural University , Beijing 100193 , China.
School of Environmental Science and Engineering , South University of Science and Technology of China , Shenzhen 518055 , China.
Wageningen, Environmental Research P.O. Box 47, 6700 AA Wageningen , The Netherlands.
Rothamsted Research , Harpenden , Herts AL5 2JQ , U.K.
Institute for Sustainable Development and International Relations (IDDRI) , 41, rue du Four 75006 Paris , France.


Developing sustainable food systems is essential, especially for emerging economies, where food systems are changing rapidly and affect the environment and natural resources. We explored possible future pathways for a sustainable food system in China, using multiple environmental indicators linked to eight of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Forecasts for 2030 in a business as usual scenario (BAU) indicate increases in animal food consumption as well as increased shortages of the land available and the water needed to produce the required food in China. Associated greenhouse gas emissions and nitrogen and phosphorus losses could become 10-42% of global emissions in 2010. We developed three main pathways besides BAU [produce more and better food (PMB), consume and waste less food (CWL), and import more food (IMF)] and analyzed their impacts and contributions to achieving one or more of the eight SDGs. Under these scenarios, the demand for land and water and the emissions of GHG and nutrients may decrease by 7-55% compared to BAU, depending on the pathway followed. A combination of PMB and CWL was most effective, while IMF externalizes impacts to countries exporting to China. Modestly increasing feed or food imports in a selective manner could ease the pressure on natural resources. Our modeling framework allows us to analyze the effects of changes in food production-consumption systems in an integrated manner, and the results can be linked to the eight SDGs. Despite formidable technological, social, educational, and structural barriers that need to be overcome, our study indicates that the ambitious targets of China's new agricultural and environmental strategy appear to be achievable.

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