Progress towards sustainable intensification in China challenged by land-use change

Lijun Zuo, Zengxiang Zhang, Kimberly M Carlson, Graham K MacDonald, Kate A Brauman, Yingchun Liu, Wen Zhang, Huayong Zhang, Wenbin Wu, Xiaoli Zhao, Xiao Wang, Bin Liu, Ling Yi, Qingke Wen, Fang Liu, Jinyong Xu, Shunguang Hu, Feifei Sun, James S Gerber, Paul C. West

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

33 Scopus citations


China is experiencing rapid land-use change and shifts in farm management. However, the interactive effects of these drivers on cropping system sustainability are unclear. Here, we evaluate spatio-temporal trade-offs among crop production and five key environmental indicators, including land use, water consumption, excess nitrogen and phosphorous use, and greenhouse gas emissions in China. From 1987 to 2010, as crop kilocalorie production increased (+66%), so did the total environmental impact of all indicators (+1.3-161%) except greenhouse gas emissions (-18%). Concurrently, environmental intensity - impact per kilocalorie produced - decreased for all indicators (-51 - 13%) except excess phosphorus (+57%). Despite substantial loss and displacement of cropland to urban expansion, counterfactual scenario analysis indicates that farm management explained >90% of changes in crop production and environmental impact. However, cropland is expanding in regions of relatively high land and irrigation intensity. Although efficiency gains partly compensated for increased environmental pressures, continued geographic shifts in cropland could challenge progress towards agricultural sustainability in China.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)304-313
Number of pages10
JournalNature Sustainability
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 1 2018

Fingerprint Dive into the research topics of 'Progress towards sustainable intensification in China challenged by land-use change'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this