Securing global food supplies with limited resources - Lessons from the past

Research output: ThesisDoctoral ThesisCollection of Articles


Humanity's ability to sufficiently feed the growing population has been under debate for centuries. To sustain the growth, we have had to push the boundaries of our planet, which has increased the scarcity of land and water resources needed for food production. This race was notable particularly during the latter half of the 20th century, when both the world population and food production more than doubled. To meet future demand, food production would once again have to double by the year 2050. Humanity's responsiveness has been remarkable in the past, thus to gain insights into where and how we can improve in the future, there is much we can learn from the past. This dissertation examines the effect of resource scarcity and agricultural trade on food availability globally. Temporal focus is on the time period after the green revolution, 1961–2009, during which population, agricultural production and global trade all exploded. By focusing on the historical context, the dissertation aims to identify different conditions and strategies for securing local food supply and, on the other hand, barriers that hinder this goal. The global framing of the research provides a comprehensive overview of the issue, building foundations on detailed, more localized studies. The dissertation found that food availability improved considerably in most regions within the study period. Much of this development can be credited to increased food production through improvements in resource use efficiency, while rapidly increased global trade has also helped to distribute global food supply more evenly. Resource scarcity in food production has increased notably with intensifying population pressure. It was found that food imports have nearly universally been used cope with these local resource limitations. Currently about 60 % of the population experiencing resources scarcity lives in areas where adequate food supply has been made possible with food imports. Despite the generally positive effects of trade in terms of food availability, in some water scarce regions, excessive water consumption in production of goods for export may increase water scarcity. Achieving future food security will require many overlapping measures. The likely increases in food trade will need to be accompanied with efforts to reduce the vulnerability of the network and improve trade policies. On the supply side, sustainable intensification of agriculture could increase food production in regions where full potential has not been reached yet. Sustainable consumption patterns, such as eating less animal based food and reducing food waste, are needed to reduce food demand. Ultimately, achieving future food security will also require solutions to improve social justice and equity.
Translated title of the contributionMaailman ruoan turvaaminen rajallisin resurssein: historiallinen katsaus
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor's degree
Awarding Institution
  • Aalto University
  • Kummu, Matti, Supervising Professor
  • Siebert, Stefan, Thesis Advisor, External person
  • Varis, Olli, Thesis Advisor
Print ISBNs978-952-60-7146-6
Electronic ISBNs978-952-60-7145-9
Publication statusPublished - 2016
MoE publication typeG5 Doctoral dissertation (article)


  • food availability
  • resource scarcity
  • water scarcity
  • agricultural trade
  • global research

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