Subjects

Abstract

Increasing population and consumption are placing unprecedented demands on agriculture and natural resources. Today, approximately a billion people are chronically malnourished while our agricultural systems are concurrently degrading land, water, biodiversity and climate on a global scale. To meet the world’s future food security and sustainability needs, food production must grow substantially while, at the same time, agriculture’s environmental footprint must shrink dramatically. Here we analyse solutions to this dilemma, showing that tremendous progress could be made by halting agricultural expansion, closing ‘yield gaps’ on underperforming lands, increasing cropping efficiency, shifting diets and reducing waste. Together, these strategies could double food production while greatly reducing the environmental impacts of agriculture.

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Acknowledgements

We are grateful for the support of NASA and the National Science Foundation. We also acknowledge the support of the Stockholm Resilience Centre, for convening a workshop on meeting global agricultural demands while staying within the ‘planetary limits’. We thank C. Godfray and C. Prentice for comments on the manuscript. We also thank M. Hoff and S. Karnas for help with the manuscript and figures.

Author information

Affiliations

  1. Institute on the Environment (IonE), University of Minnesota, 1954 Buford Avenue, Saint Paul, Minnesota 55108, USA

    • Jonathan A. Foley
    • , Kate A. Brauman
    • , Emily S. Cassidy
    • , James S. Gerber
    • , Matt Johnston
    • , Nathaniel D. Mueller
    • , Christine O’Connell
    • , Deepak K. Ray
    • , Paul C. West
    • , Jason Hill
    • , Stephen Polasky
    • , John Sheehan
    •  & David Tilman
  2. Department of Geography and Global Environmental and Climate Change Centre, McGill University, 805 Sherbrooke Street, West Montreal, Quebec H3A 2K6, Canada

    • Navin Ramankutty
  3. Department of Ecology, Evolution and Marine Biology, University of California, Santa Barbara, California 93106, USA

    • Christian Balzer
  4. School of Environment and Department of Natural Resource Sciences, McGill University, 111 Lakeshore Road, Ste Anne de Bellevue, Quebec H9X 3V9, Canada

    • Elena M. Bennett
  5. Center for Limnology, University of Wisconsin, 680 North Park Street, Madison, Wisconsin 53706, USA

    • Stephen R. Carpenter
  6. Department of Bioproducts and Biosystems Engineering, University of Minnesota, 2004 Folwell Avenue, Minnesota 55108, USA

    • Jason Hill
  7. Consortium for Science, Policy and Outcomes (CSPO), Arizona State University, 1120 S Cady Mall, Tempe, Arizona 85287, USA

    • Chad Monfreda
  8. Department of Applied Economics, University of Minnesota, 1994 Buford Avenue, Minnesota 55108, USA

    • Stephen Polasky
  9. Stockholm Resilience Centre, Stockholm University, SE-106 91, Stockholm, Sweden

    • Johan Rockström
  10. Institute of Crop Science and Resource Conservation, University of Bonn, Katzenburgweg 5, D53115, Bonn, Germany

    • Stefan Siebert
  11. Department of Ecology, Evolution & Behavior, University of Minnesota, 1987 Upper Buford Circle, Minnesota 55108, USA

    • David Tilman
  12. Center for Sustainability and the Global Environment (SAGE), University of Wisconsin, 1710 University Avenue, Madison, Wisconsin 53726, USA

    • David P. M. Zaks

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Contributions

J.A.F., N.R., K.A.B., E.S.C., J.S.G., M.J., N.D.M., C.O’C., D.K.R. and P.C.W. conducted most of the data production, analysis and shared writing responsibilities. C.B., C.M., S.S. and D.T. contributed data and shared in the scoping and writing responsibilities. E.M.B., S.R.C., J.H., S.P., J.R., J.S. and D.P.M.Z. shared in the scoping and writing responsibilities.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Jonathan A. Foley.

Supplementary information

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    Supplementary Information

    The file contains Supplementary Figures 1-7 with legends, Supplementary Methods, Supplementary Table 1 and additional references.

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https://doi.org/10.1038/nature10452

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