Global agricultural trade and land system sustainability: Implications for ecosystem carbon storage, biodiversity, and human nutrition

Related GLP Member: Abhishek Chaudhary, Simone Gingrich, Alexandra Marques, Martin Persson, Florian Schwarzmüller


Global land systems are increasingly shaped by international trade of agricultural products. An increasing number of studies have quantified the implications of agricultural trade for single different aspects of land system sustainability. Bringing together studies across different sustainability dimensions, this review investigates how global agricultural trade flows have affected land systems and resulting impacts on food and nutrient availability, natural habitat conversion, biodiversity loss, and ecosystem carbon storage. We show that the effects of trade on land systems are highly heterogeneous across regions and commodities, revealing both synergies and trade-offs between improved nutrition and environmental conservation. For instance, we find that while the concentration of cereal production in North America has spared land, the increased demand for tropical products induced by trade has negatively impacted tropical ecosystems. Based on the current state of knowledge, we identify six pathways for how future research can contribute to a more comprehensive understanding of how agricultural trade can positively contribute to meeting global sustainability goals.