Inputs for staple crop production in China drive burden shifting of water and carbon footprints transgressing part of provincial planetary boundaries

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Crop production is the biggest water user and key contributor to anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions. Increasing crop yields to ensure adequate food supply under water and land scarcity is excessively dependents on intensive agricultural inputs (such as fertilizers, pesticides, agri-films, or energy), resulting in unintended environmental consequences. Supply chains bringing environmental-intensive inputs from their place of production to the croplands. However, most food-related environmental assessments ignore the environmental burden of agricultural input production, trade, and consumption. Here, we estimate spatially-detailed water (WF) and carbon footprints (CF) of wheat, maize, and rice production in China with extended system boundary from upstream raw material mining to the field. The agricultural inputs account for up to 24% and 89% of a crop's WF and CF, respectively, at the provincial level. The total local generated WF in Chinese northern provinces and CF in Shanxi and Inner Mongolia provinces for producing crops and agricultural inputs transgresses the corresponding downscaled blue water and carbon planetary boundaries. The study broadens the scope of traditional environmental impact assessments in agricultural production and sheds light on the significances to manage the linkages between the crop production and the agricultural inputs' upstream supply chains towards more efficient water use and less greenhouse gas emissions in food system.

Crop production, Agricultural inputs, Water footprint, Carbon footprint, Planetary boundary, China