Leverage points for improving global food security and the environment

Leverage points for improving global food security and the environment


Meeting global food demands is still a challenge, yet agriculture has been one of the main driving forces of greenhouse gas emissions. Hence, this study focused on identifying small regions, actions that can be taken and crops with a potential of increasing global yields, with an efficient system of food delivery and reducing the negative impacts of agriculture on the environment.


To identify these leverage points, recently published geospatial data and models were used to analyze how specific issues at the nexus of agriculture and the environment vary across the globe. Analysis was focused on 16 high calorie producing food crops, and cotton as the 17th crop.  The yield gap was calculated to assess possible attainable yields. Hot spots of irrigation were identified using crop specific irrigation data, and consumer food waste of major food crops was assessed to show that small changes can influence available calories.


The authors state that, prioritizing a small set of leverage points can greatly increase the efficiency and sustainability of food production, while reducing pressure on natural ecosystems. This is necessary in decision making by various stakeholders which are directly involved in food production to improve global food security.


West PC, Gerber JS, Engstrom PM, et al. Leverage points for improving global food security and the environment. Science. 2014;345:325–328. doi:10.1126/science.1246067.


  • Institute on the Environment, University of Minnesota, St. Paul, MN 55108, USA
  • Center for the Environment, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA 02138, USA
  • Environmental Working Group, Washington, DC 20009, USA
  • Institute of Crop Science and Resource Conservation, University of Bonn, Katzenburgweg 5, D-53115 Bonn, Germany