Water, land and carbon footprints of Chinese dairy in the past and future - INRAE - Institut national de recherche pour l’agriculture, l’alimentation et l’environnement Access content directly
Journal Articles Sustainable Production and Consumption Year : 2023

Water, land and carbon footprints of Chinese dairy in the past and future


Chinese food consumption shifts towards larger milk consumption. Traditional dairy systems depended on China's grasslands, but modern industrial systems using feed from croplands increase rapidly. The question is whether China can fulfill future milk demand using its natural resources and remain within greenhouse gas emission boundaries. To determine this, this study combines three footprint analyses - water footprint (WF), land footprint (LF) and carbon footprint (CF) - estimated via production chain approach. It compares WFs, LFs and CFs of milk, meat, and manure from six dairy systems in three categories: traditional grazing, traditional mixed, and modern industrial systems. It estimates future footprints for five production scenarios for low and high milk demand. Between 2000 and 2020, industrial systems increased, accounting for 79 % of production in 2020, while traditional production decreased. Traditional grazing systems have large green WFs per kg (17.2 m3), negligible blue WFs and large LFs (46 m2 low quality grassland). Traditional mixed systems have large CFs per kg (2.93 kg CO2) due to low efficiency. Modern industrial systems rely partly on irrigated croplands and have small green WFs, but large blue WFs per kg (0.54 m3), grey WFs (0.24 m3) and small LFs (1.80 m2 cropland). The findings indicate that with dominating industrial systems, milk production relies more on irrigation and limited croplands. In a realistic low demand situation, milk consumption stabilizes. However, consumption triples if the Chinese follow nutritional advice, resulting in 4 to 6 times larger WFs, LFs and CFs in 2035 depending on production scenarios. In 2035, population is largest, from 2035 to 2050 footprints decrease again. However, China cannot produce the milk for a high consumption situation limited by grassland and cropland availability. Alternatively, China could import feed or milk. However, it is questionable whether these huge quantities are available on the global market.
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hal-04119197 , version 1 (06-06-2023)





J. Yi, P.W. Gerbens-Leenes, P. Guzmán-Luna. Water, land and carbon footprints of Chinese dairy in the past and future. Sustainable Production and Consumption, 2023, 38, pp.186-198. ⟨10.1016/j.spc.2023.04.004⟩. ⟨hal-04119197⟩
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