Past and present biophysical redundancy of countries as a buffer to changes in food supply

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


  • Marianela Fader
  • Maria Cristina Rulli
  • Joel Carr
  • Jampel Dell'Angelo
  • Paolo D'Odorico
  • Jessica A. Gephart
  • Matti Kummu

  • Nicholas Magliocca
  • Miina Porkka
  • Christina Prell
  • Michael J. Puma
  • Zak Ratajczak
  • David Aseekell
  • Samir Suweis
  • Alessandro Tavoni

Research units

  • University of Virginia
  • University of Maryland, College Park
  • Columbia University and NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies
  • Umeå University
  • Università Degli Studi di Padova
  • The London School of Economics and Political Science
  • Institut Méditerranéen de Biodiversité et d'Ecologie marine et continentale
  • Polytechnic University of Milan


Spatially diverse trends in population growth, climate change, industrialization, urbanization and economic development are expected to change future food supply and demand. These changes may affect the suitability of land for food production, implying elevated risks especially for resourceconstrained, food-importing countries.Wepresent the evolution of biophysical redundancy for agricultural production at country level, from 1992 to 2012. Biophysical redundancy, defined as unused biotic and abiotic environmental resources, is represented by the potential food production of 'spare land', available water resources (i.e., not already used for human activities), as well as production increases through yield gap closure on cultivated areas and potential agricultural areas. In 2012, the biophysical redundancy of 75 (48) countries, mainly in North Africa, Western Europe, the Middle East and Asia, was insufficient to produce the caloric nutritional needs for at least 50% (25%) of their population during a year. Biophysical redundancy has decreased in the last two decades in 102 out of 155 countries, 11 of these went from high to limited redundancy, and nine of these from limited to very low redundancy. Although the variability of the drivers of change across different countries is high, improvements in yield and population growth have a clear impact on the decreases of redundancy towards the very low redundancy category.Wetook a more detailed look at countries classified as 'Low Income Economies (LIEs)' since they are particularly vulnerable to domestic or external food supply changes, due to their limited capacity to offset for food supply decreases with higher purchasing power on the international market. Currently, nine LIEs have limited or very low biophysical redundancy. Many of these showed a decrease in redundancy over the last two decades, which is not always linked with improvements in per capita food availability.


Original languageEnglish
Article number055008
Number of pages15
JournalEnvironmental Research Letters
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 17 May 2016
MoE publication typeA1 Journal article-refereed

    Research areas

  • Productivity, Redundancy, Resilience, Spare land, Water, Yield gap

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