eCite Digital Repository

Farming and the geography of nutrient production for human use: a transdisciplinary analysis


Herrero, M and Thornton, PK and Power, B and Bogard, JR and Remans, R and Fritz, S and Gerber, JS and Nelson, G and See, L and Waha, L and Watson, RA and West, PC and Samberg, LH and van de Steeg, J and Stephenson, E and van Wijk, M and Havlik, P, Farming and the geography of nutrient production for human use: a transdisciplinary analysis, Lancet Planetary Health, 1, (1) pp. e33-e42. ISSN 2542-5196 (2017) [Refereed Article]


Copyright Statement

Copyright 2017 The Authors. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)

DOI: doi:10.1016/S2542-5196(17)30007-4



Information about the global structure of agriculture and nutrient production and its diversity is essential to improve present understanding of national food production patterns, agricultural livelihoods, and food chains, and their linkages to land use and their associated ecosystems services. Here we provide a plausible breakdown of global agricultural and nutrient production by farm size, and also study the associations between farm size, agricultural diversity, and nutrient production. This analysis is crucial to design interventions that might be appropriately targeted to promote healthy diets and ecosystems in the face of population growth, urbanisation, and climate change.


We used existing spatially-explicit global datasets to estimate the production levels of 41 major crops, seven livestock, and 14 aquaculture and fish products. From overall production estimates, we estimated the production of vitamin A, vitamin B12, folate, iron, zinc, calcium, calories, and protein. We also estimated the relative contribution of farms of different sizes to the production of different agricultural commodities and associated nutrients, as well as how the diversity of food production based on the number of different products grown per geographic pixel and distribution of products within this pixel (Shannon diversity index [H]) changes with different farm sizes.


Globally, small and medium farms (≤50 ha) produce 5177% of nearly all commodities and nutrients examined here. However, important regional differences exist. Large farms (>50 ha) dominate production in North America, South America, and Australia and New Zealand. In these regions, large farms contribute between 75% and 100% of all cereal, livestock, and fruit production, and the pattern is similar for other commodity groups. By contrast, small farms (≤20 ha) produce more than 75% of most food commodities in sub-Saharan Africa, southeast Asia, south Asia, and China. In Europe, west Asia and north Africa, and central America, medium-size farms (2050 ha) also contribute substantially to the production of most food commodities. Very small farms (≤2 ha) are important and have local significance in sub-Saharan Africa, southeast Asia, and south Asia, where they contribute to about 30% of most food commodities. The majority of vegetables (81%), roots and tubers (72%), pulses (67%), fruits (66%), fish and livestock products (60%), and cereals (56%) are produced in diverse landscapes (H>15). Similarly, the majority of global micronutrients (5381%) and protein (57%) are also produced in more diverse agricultural landscapes (H>15). By contrast, the majority of sugar (73%) and oil crops (57%) are produced in less diverse ones (H≤15), which also account for the majority of global calorie production (56%). The diversity of agricultural and nutrient production diminishes as farm size increases. However, areas of the world with higher agricultural diversity produce more nutrients, irrespective of farm size.


Our results show that farm size and diversity of agricultural production vary substantially across regions and are key structural determinants of food and nutrient production that need to be considered in plans to meet social, economic, and environmental targets. At the global level, both small and large farms have key roles in food and nutrition security. Efforts to maintain production diversity as farm sizes increase seem to be necessary to maintain the production of diverse nutrients and viable, multifunctional, sustainable landscapes.

Item Details

Item Type:Refereed Article
Keywords:global, fisheries, nutrition, farming
Research Division:Agricultural, Veterinary and Food Sciences
Research Group:Fisheries sciences
Research Field:Aquaculture and fisheries stock assessment
Objective Division:Environmental Policy, Climate Change and Natural Hazards
Objective Group:Adaptation to climate change
Objective Field:Social impacts of climate change and variability
UTAS Author:Watson, RA (Professor Reginald Watson)
ID Code:115701
Year Published:2017
Funding Support:Australian Research Council (DP140101377)
Web of Science® Times Cited:177
Deposited By:Fisheries and Aquaculture
Deposited On:2017-04-05
Last Modified:2018-03-21
Downloads:96 View Download Statistics

Repository Staff Only: item control page