So what does this mean for food prices?
In our analysis, we examine 10 major crops (barley, groundnut, maize, potato, sugar beet, rice, sunflower, sorghum, soybean and wheat) and find that, at local scales, food production costs may increase, owing to the more intensive use of inputs. Nonetheless, the reduction of cultivated land by 50% overcompensates the slightly higher local-scale costs enabling an improved overall cost-effectiveness. As such, on a global scale, we find that food production costs could decrease by 40%. And our results tell us that long-run food prices should continue to decrease even under such strong environmental policies.
We must keep in mind that the food production costs are only one part of the land-sparing debate and not the end of this discussion. Agricultural transitions in more sustainable systems require technical knowledge but also use of best available techniques that in certain geographies may be limited due to local constraints such as economic resources. Furthermore, the geographic reallocation of food systems could have significant effects on global food trade and further social implications, for example, agricultural worker surpluses in the areas that will be spared for nature restoration. Addressing the complex social inequalities attached to a more efficient and environmentally sustainable agriculture requires further interventions for groups leaving agriculture, fast increasing non-agricultural job opportunities.
These parameters need to be examined and understood in a wide context so that discussions bring in all stakeholders and include technological and institutional interventions. This will enable a meaningful transition for the smallholder farmers globally, providing non-farm (sources of employment outside the farm gate) and diversification (crop diversification, value added products, agritourism) options as alternatives to lessen or abandon agriculture as the principal livelihood activity. If the where and how we produce food, together with the social and trade implications of this shift become part of the discussion for global sustainable development, we are more likely to reach a solution to enhance food security in a win-win strategy for the economy and the environment.