Contextualizing Embodied Resources in Global Food Trade

Tuesday, 16 December 2014
Graham K MacDonald1, Kate A Brauman1, Shipeng Sun2, Paul C West1, Kimberly M Carlson1, Emily S Cassidy3, James S Gerber1 and Deepak K Ray1, (1)University of Minnesota Twin Cities, Minneapolis, MN, United States, (2)University of Illinois Springfield, Springfield, IL, United States, (3)Environmental Working Group, Washington, DC, United States
Trade in agricultural commodities has created increasingly complex linkages between resource use and food supplies across national borders. Understanding the degree to which food production and consumption relies on trade is vital to understanding how to sustainably meet growing food demands across scales. We use detailed bilateral trade statistics and data on agricultural management to examine the land use and water consumption embodied in agricultural trade, which we relate to basic nutritional indicators to show how trade contributes to food availability worldwide. Agricultural trade carries enough calories to provide >1.7 billion people a basic diet each year. We identify key commodities and producer-consumer relationships that disproportionately contribute to embodied resource use and flows of food nutrition at the global scale. For example, just 15 disproportionately large soybean trades comprised ~10% the total harvested area embodied in export production. We conclude by framing these results in terms of the fraction of each country’s food production and consumption that is linked to international trade. These findings help to characterize how countries allocate resources to domestic versus foreign food demand.