EGU General Assembly 2023
© Author(s) 2023. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Healthier diets, healthier planet? Quantifying the biodiversity pressure of fruit and vegetable consumption in South Africa, India, and the UK

Abbie Chapman1, Carole Dalin1,2, Sara Bonetti3, Rosemary Green4, Genevieve Hadida4, Tafadzwa Mabhaudhi5, and Pauline Scheelbeek4
Abbie Chapman et al.
  • 1UCL Institute for Sustainable Resources, University College London (UCL), London, United Kingdom
  • 2École Normale Supérieure (ENS), Paris, France
  • 3Laboratory of Catchment Hydrology and Geomorphology, Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL), Lausanne, Switzerland
  • 4Centre on Climate Change and Planetary Health, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM), London, United Kingdom
  • 5Centre for Transformative Agricultural and Food Systems (CTAFS), University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban, South Africa

Eating more fruits and vegetables lowers risk of non-communicable diseases. Globally, people are not eating the recommended amounts of these foods; consumption must increase to improve human health. However, in general, areas of cropland are associated with lower biodiversity than natural land (e.g., forests and grasslands). Converting natural land to cropland for agriculture therefore risks biodiversity loss which, in turn, risks lowering crop yields because biodiversity supports food production via pollination and pest control. Herein lies a trade-off. As the world seeks to eat more healthily, more fruits and vegetables will be produced to meet demand. Here, we share our research into this trade-off between healthy diets and biodiversity conservation.

To quantify the biodiversity pressure associated with healthy fruit and vegetable crops, we made use of freely available data on: species distributions (IUCN, 2013); fruit and vegetable production, yield, and harvested area (Monfreda et al., 2008); and international trade of fruits and vegetables (FAOSTAT; Dalin et al., 2017). Previous research into cropland-biodiversity relationships has typically grouped land-cover types into ‘cropland’ and ‘natural land’, without considering the impacts of specific crops on biodiversity (except for major commodities, like cocoa, and staples, like maize). We have developed a new suite of biodiversity-pressure metrics for specific crops which can be measured globally. These metrics enable us to quantify the species potentially impacted for each unit of crop in both a consumer country and its trade-partner countries. The new measures facilitate quantitative comparisons among specific crops and countries for the first time. Using these new measures, we compared the biodiversity pressures associated with the production and consumption of 54 different fruits and vegetables. We mapped the origin of crops consumed in the UK, South Africa, and India, and quantified associated biodiversity pressures relative to food produced and imported.

Contrary to previous research considering the relative impacts of food crops on climate change and water resources, biodiversity pressure due to fruit production is not always higher than that due to vegetables. The most important factors associated with increased biodiversity pressures include the country of production and the amounts being produced. We did not identify a single suite of crops standing out as particularly unsustainable across all three focal countries. This is significant, as it emphasizes the importance of trade in influencing sustainability. For some crops, domestic production would have a lower biodiversity pressure than importing from trade partners (e.g., UK-grown tomatoes). In such cases, the domestic production of fruits and vegetables should be promoted in conjunction with biodiversity-friendly farming practices. In other cases, domestic production of a crop is associated with a higher biodiversity pressure than the crop’s biodiversity pressure when produced overseas (e.g., UK-grown cherries). Our findings are particularly important in the context of changing trade patterns since the early 2000s, where countries like the UK have been increasingly sourcing fruits and vegetables from abroad. Our results could therefore inform policies aimed at tracing the environmental impacts of food-supply chains in the UK, India, and South Africa.

How to cite: Chapman, A., Dalin, C., Bonetti, S., Green, R., Hadida, G., Mabhaudhi, T., and Scheelbeek, P.: Healthier diets, healthier planet? Quantifying the biodiversity pressure of fruit and vegetable consumption in South Africa, India, and the UK, EGU General Assembly 2023, Vienna, Austria, 24–28 Apr 2023, EGU23-7963,, 2023.