Local food reliance infeasible for global majority

April 23, 2020
Photo of vegetables being grown on a farm.

Photo by John Lambeth via Pexels.

A recent study published in Nature Food,  co-authored by environmental science, policy, and management professor Paolo D’Odorico, found that less than one-third of the world population could currently meet their demand with food produced on a local scale alone.

Over the past several decades, food production has become more efficient globally, resulting in the overall diversification of diets. Still, the majority of the world population live in countries that are dependent on, at least partially, imported food.  As a result, food insecurity is intensified during global crises like the current COVID-19 pandemic, when global supply chains are disrupted.

The study models the minimum distance between crop production and consumption necessary to meet food demand around the world. Conducted in collaboration with Aalto University, the University of Columbia, the Australian National University, and the University of Göttningen, the study factors in six key crop groups: temperate cereals (wheat, barley, rye), rice, corn, tropical grains (millet, sorghum), tropical roots (cassava), and pulses. In their models, the researchers consider various production modes, also including scenarios where production chains become more efficient due to reduced food waste and improved farming methods.

The results show that only 27 percent of the world population could access temperate cereal grains within a radius of fewer than 100 kilometers, or roughly 62 miles. The findings indicate that local food production is not sufficient in meeting global demand, especially given current agricultural practices and consumption habits. The authors recommend further research into increasing levels of domestic production, as well as the mitigation of food waste and agriculture's environmental impacts. 

-Adapted from an Aalto University press release. Read the full article in Nature Food here.