Climate Adaptation Imperatives: Global Sustainability Trends and Eco-efficiency Metrics in Four Major Crops – Canola, Cotton, Maize, and Soybeans

Gustafson D, Collins M, Fry J, Smith S, Matlock M, Zilberman D, Shryock J, Doanee M, Ramsey N

DOI: 10.1080/14735903.2013.846017

Abstract: Supplying our world’s growing nutrition needs in more sustainable ways has become an urgent global imperative, given the constraints of finite resources and the challenges of accelerating climate change. We present national-level eco-efficiency metrics in several representative production countries during the most recent decade (2000–2010) for four important crops: canola, cotton, maize, and soybeans. The metrics address greenhouse gas emissions and the utilization of land, water, and energy – all calculated per unit of production. We group countries based on their level of agricultural intensification and find that high-intensification countries are achieving the highest and yet still increasing levels of eco-efficiency, with these decadal gains: canola (26%), cotton (23%), maize (17%), and soybeans (18%). By stark contrast, low-intensification countries had no change in eco-efficiency during this same decade. Overall, our results suggest large opportunities for additional improvements in the developing world, and that cumulative resource savings through intensification have been significant. For instance, in the case of irrigated maize, if the high- and medium-intensification production countries had only achieved the same irrigation water-use efficiency as in the low-intensification countries, approximately 4 quadrillion (4×1015) more litres of irrigation water would have been consumed during the period 2000–2010.

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