External limits at the planetary level [Illustrations of MuSIASEM]


Aim of the case study

This case study has two goals. In Part 1 it discusses how to use MuSIASEM to generate scenarios to assess how much EU agricultural practices could be scaled to the world level. In Part 2 it provides “place-holder-data” having the goal of illustrating the proposed analysis.


Innovative results

In Part 1 this pilot case study identifies and illustrates the factors considered in the MuSIASEM analysis of the agricultural sector to generate scenarios of global food security. The approach requires considering simultaneously:

  1. the factors that determine the requirement of food (population structure, population size and dietary preferences).
  2. the external factors/constraints determining the feasibility of the supply of food in different social-ecological systems – i.e. natural resources (arable land, water, soil, biodiversity), geography, climate, etc..
  3. the internal factors/constraints determining both the desirability and viability of the supply of food in the metabolic pattern of social-ecological systems – i.e. technological, social, economic, cultural and institutional constraints on the food system.


In Part 2 this pilot case study provides “place-holder-data” having the goal of illustrating the proposed analysis. It should be noted that these data are not MUSIASEM estimates (they have not been estimated using processors reflecting benchmarks scaled across different hierarchical levels). They are just coarse guesstimates that may be proven wrong when the proper estimation will be done using the proposed approach.

  1. If the world population increases to 9.5 billion as forecasted, if the world population adopts the current EU diet (implying a requirement of 0.3 ha of cropland per capita), food production would require approximately twice the current world cropland in production;
  2. The amount of hours of agricultural work embodied in the food imported by EU is around 80 hours per capita per year. This quantity doubles the hours of agricultural work used in domestic production within the EU – around 40 hours per capita per year;
  3. Economic investment in agricultural production is about 450 US$/ha in the EU. This value is three time larger than the average world expenditure (less than 150 US$/ha). This implies that a quick technical capitalization of the agricultural sector of developing countries (required to express the type of metabolic pattern expected in existing scenarios – e.g. a dramatic increase of urban population) is very unlikely.


Policy relevant insights

  • The EU intensive agricultural system is economically viable because of subsidies and because of the reliance on imports of agricultural commodities based on the availability of cheap labour;
  • The EU agricultural sector has become more and more an importer of agricultural commodities with the goal of transforming or processing them (e.g. imported animal feed are transformed in animal products), leading to a switch from the production of crops to the production of animal products. EU agriculture should be considered more and more a secondary sector of the economy rather than a primary one;
  • The factors that may lead to a bottleneck in scaling up the agricultural model of the EU to the rest of the world are the requirement of labour and the very high level of investments required by agricultural production;


Nexus insights

  • Food production in EU is constrained by the availability of abundant water, energy, land, technology and monetary flows (investments, subsidies);
  • The future of agriculture and the possibility to feed the planet in the future will be limited by the availability of water-land-energy and investment requirements;
  • When generating scenarios that explore the viability and feasibility of scaling-up or scaling-down, or changing agricultural production patterns, the implications of the nexus must be taken into account.


Future steps

The analysis described in this pilot case study will be carried out using the proposed MUSIASEM tools to study the viability and feasibility of different scenarios for agricultural production at the world level.


Planetary level