Restoring Nature at Lower Food Production Costs

Aug 1, 2023

Growing competition for land, water and energy call for global strategies ensuring affordable food production at minimum environmental impacts. Economic modelling studies suggest trade-off relationships between environmental sustainability and food prices. However, evidence based on empirical cost-functions supporting such trade-offs remains scarce at the global level. Here, based on cost engineering modelling, we show that optimised spatial allocation of 10 major crops, would reduce current costs of agricultural production by approximately 40% while improving environmental performance. Although production inputs per unit of output increase at local scales, a reduction of cultivated land of 50% overcompensates the slightly higher field-scale costs enabling improved overall cost-effectiveness. Our results suggest that long-run food prices are bound to continue to decrease under strong environmental policies. Policies supporting sustainability transitions in the land sector should focus on managing local barriers to the implementation of high-yield regenerative agricultural practices delivering multiple regional and global public goods.

Publication details
Net zero & sustainable development
Research paper
Obersteiner, Michael
Frontiers in Environmental Science

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