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How food consumption affects land use

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Bananas, cocoa, soy, rice, and many other crops are traded globally. This means that consumption of these foods in one country can affect agricultural practices in other countries. In some cases, this may lead to deforestation or other ecosystem effects. To better understand such processes, it is useful to know how different farming systems across the globe are connected to international value chains.

Dr Post, along with a group of colleagues at the Natural Resources Group, ITC, is conducting a systematic literature review, in which they review numerous global case studies of different farming systems that have experienced land use change. “Several case studies have researched land-use changes and their connection to trade. By synthesizing these studies, we aim to characterize how farmers are connected to the value chain based on their degree of agency, distance to consumers, and their environmental and social norms” says Pim.

This research aims to improve land use modelling and information about land use changes by making the conventional “driving forces” of land use change more explicit. It provides a better understanding of how land use changes in one place is affected by consumption demand from other places through the value chain connection. In the end, it could even be used to make better predictions for what land use changes are going to occur, for example in response to European food policies. According to Dr Post “If there is a big shock somewhere, then, it may affect land use in other places. For example, now the export of sunflower oil from Ukraine is reduced because of the war, the demand for other oils such as palm oil may rise, which may affect land use changes in other parts of the world. Other example could be how new plans on reforestation in Europe under the Green Deal may lead to decreased food production in Europe and increasing imports from elsewhere, affecting land use changes in other parts of the world. These big shocks relate to land use change”.

Pim Post, Dr
“Several case studies have researched land-use changes and their connection to trade. By synthesizing these studies, we aim to characterize how farmers are connected to the value chain based on their degree of agency, distance to consumers, and their environmental and social norms”
Pim Post, Dr

Pre-registration of the protocol

For conducting such a systematic review, the protocol has been pre-registered. Using standard reporting items is common practice in other disciplines, such as health sciences but at the ITC Faculty, no systematic review protocol has been pre-registered before to the best of our knowledge. An important reason for pre-registering a study is to increase the transparency of the research process. As pre-registration requires making methods and questions public before the research starts, “tweaking research questions or hypotheses in line with the results is not an option. If you change your methods or questions, you need a very strong argument to do so, and that makes it more transparent” describes Pim. Making the protocol public also requires thinking well about the methods before starting the research; it gives a good incentive to have a strong foundation for the research. Another reason for pre-registering may be to inform other researchers that plan to do a similar study to avoid double work. “This is not a common issue” Dr Post explains, “but in principle, if other people want to do a systematic review about this topic, then they are aware of what we are doing and planning to do”.

These reasons were convincing enough to register the systematic review protocol with Open Science Registries. The protocol received a timestamp and DOI and the systematic review is now being conducted.

About Pim Post

Dr Pim Post is committed to investigating how food consumption affects other parts of the world. “I hope my research ultimately helps to reduce the adverse effects of my own food consumption and that of fellow Europeans on ecosystems and livelihoods worldwide”.

His work is made possible thanks to the funding of the 4TU.HTSF DeSIRE programme of the four universities of technology in the Netherlands.