UCL Institute for Sustainable Resources


Developing integrated environmental indicators for sustainable global food production and trade

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.

field of crops

1 August 2021

Key Facts

  • Funding body: NERC
  • CollaboratorsCollaborators from UCL and other academic institutions in Europe and around the world.
  • Project duration: Aug 2016 - Aug 2021 


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 Irrigation accounts for more than two thirds of freshwater withdrawn globally, and agriculture occupies more than one third of the Earth's land surface and emits a quarter of global greenhouse gas emissions.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.

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  • Multi-scale analysis of the water-energy-food nexus in the Gulf region, Siderius C, D Conway, M Yassine M, L Murken, PL Lostis and C Dalin, Environmental Research Letters 2020 ISSN 1748-9326 DOI PDF
  • Groundwater depletion embedded in domestic transfers & international exports of the United States, Gumidyala S, P Ruess, M Konar, L Marston, C Dalin and Y Wada, Water Resources Research 56. 2020 DOI PDF
  • The 2019 report of The Lancet Countdown on health and climate change, Watts N, ... , C Dalin et al. The Lancet 394 (10211). 2019 DOI PDF
  • Environmental footprint family to address local to planetary sustainability and deliver on the SDGs, Vanham D, A Leip, C Dalin et al. Science of the Total Environment. 2019 DOI PDF
  • Unsustainable groundwater use for global food production and related international trade, Dalin C, M Taniguchi and T Green, Global Sustainability, Cambridge University Press. 2019 INVITED DOI
  • Water Debt indicator reveals where agricultural water use exceeds sustainable levels, Tuninetti M, S Tamea and C Dalin, Water Resources Research. 2019 DOI PDF
  • Global virtual water trade and the hydrological cycle: Patterns, drivers, and socio-environmental impacts, D'Odorico P, ... C Dalin et al. Environmental Research Letters. 2019 DOI PDF
  • Groundwater depletion embedded in international food trade, Dalin C, Y Wada, T Kastner and M Puma, Nature, 543, 700-704. 2017 DOI PDF
  • Collaborators from UCL and other academic institutions in Europe and around the world.