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Drivers of increasing global crop production: A decomposition analysis

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journal contribution
posted on 2023-05-20, 23:01 authored by Blomqvist, L, Luke YatesLuke Yates, Barry BrookBarry Brook
Rising crop production over the last half century has had far-reaching consequences for human welfare and the environment. With food demand projected to rise, one of the central challenges in minimizing agriculture's impacts on the climate and biodiversity is to increase crop production with higher yields rather than more cropland. However, quantifying progress is challenging. When analyzed at the most aggregated, global level, yields can be defined as the total crop output per unit area per year, but aggregate yields are driven by multiple factors, only some of which have a clear relationship to improved agricultural production. To date, there is no research that simultaneously determines how much of rising crop production has been met by rising aggregate yields versus cropland expansion, while also quantifying the unique contribution of each yield driver. Using LMDI decomposition analysis, we find that rising aggregate yields contributed far more than cropland expansion (89% compared to 11%). That is, growing global food demand has by and large been met by growing more crops on the same amount of land, rather than expanding cropland. Our second-stage decomposition showed that nearly two-thirds of aggregate yield improvements have come from pure yield, or the output of a given crop per unit of harvested cropland area in a given country per unit area per year. The remainder has come from less-discussed drivers of aggregate yields, including cropping intensity, changes in the geographic distribution of cropland, and crop composition. Further, we use attribution analysis to show the contributions to different decomposition factors from countries grouped by climate, income, and region, as well as from different crops. Such granular yet comprehensive breakdowns of crop production and aggregate yields offer more accurate forecasts and can help focus policies on the most promising levers to meet rising food demand sustainably.


Australian Research Council


Publication title

Environmental Research Letters





Article number









School of Natural Sciences


IOP Publishing

Place of publication

United Kingdom

Rights statement

© 2020 The Author(s). Published by IOP Publishing Ltd. Original content from this work may be used under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0) license ( Any further distribution of this work must maintain attribution to the author(s) and the title of the work, journal citation and DOI.

Repository Status

  • Open

Socio-economic Objectives

Sustainability indicators; Expanding knowledge in the environmental sciences