UCL Institute for Sustainable Resources


Developing integrated environmental indicators for sustainable global food production and trade

field of crops

15 August 2016

The Developing integrated environmental indicators for sustainable global food production and trade (FOODIES) project is an Independent Research Fellowship, funded by the UK Natural Environment Research Council (NERC).

FOODIES aims to improve understanding of the environmental impact and sustainability of global food production and trade, and to propose solutions to alleviate this impact. 

The natural environment, providing us with essential resources and ecosystem services, is under increasing pressure from human activities. Importantly, increasing demand for food, due to population growth and socio-economic development, have led to the intensive use of water, land, and fertilisers in agriculture. Irrigation accounts for more than two thirds of freshwater withdrawn globally, and agriculture occupies more than one third of the Earth's land surface and emits a quarter of global greenhouse gas emissions. Furthermore, food production will need to significantly increase to feed about two additional billion people by 2050. Ensuring environmentally sustainable, sufficient food production is thus a difficult and pressing global challenge.

To address this challenge, the FOODIES project will provide critical improvements in our current understanding of the multiple environmental impacts of agriculture, by accounting for different practices and local conditions across the world. This will allow a comprehensive assessment of agricultural sustainability and help to quantify trade-offs associated with different agricultural management strategies. Indeed, as agricultural practices are tightly linked (e.g. water and soil management), it is essential to consider all major environmental aspects to avoid the unintended consequences of strategies focused on a single aspect. The research will also consider trade; following recent globalisation, international food trade has grown rapidly since the 1980s, allowing for the development of major export-oriented agricultural regions. This crucial role of trade in global agricultural systems will be integrated in the evaluation of potential pathways to achieve environmentally sustainable agriculture.

FOODIES addresses critical areas of integration necessary to assess pathways to sustainable agriculture:

(1) comprehensive estimation of environmental impacts

(2) integration across a range of products (crops and livestock)

(3) innovative quantitative measures of sustainability

(4) simultaneous linking of all environmental stresses with global trade.


Dr Carole Dalin (PI / Fellow)