Fall 2015

Closing Yield Gaps: Consequences for the Global Food Supply, Environmental Quality & Food Security

Nathaniel D. Mueller and Seth Binder

The social, economic, and environmental costs of feeding a burgeoning and increasingly affluent human population will depend, in part, on how we increase crop production on under-yielding agricultural landscapes, and by how much. Such areas have a “yield gap” between the crop yields they achieve and the crop yields that could be achieved under more intensive management. Crop yield gaps have received increased attention in recent years due to concerns over land scarcity, stagnating crop yield trends in some important agricultural areas, and large projected increases in food demand. Recent analyses of global data sets and results from field trials have improved our understanding of where yield gaps exist and their potential contribution to increasing the food supply. Achieving yield gap closure is a complex task: while agronomic approaches to closing yield gaps are generally well-known, a variety of social, political, and economic factors allow them to persist. The degree to which closing yield gaps will lead to greater food security and environmental benefits remains unclear, and will be strongly influenced by the particular strategies adopted.

NATHANIEL D. MUELLER is an Agricultural Ecologist and Ziff Environmental Fellow at the Center for the Environment at Harvard University. He has contributed articles to such journals as Nature, Science, Field Crops Research, and Environmental Research Letters

SETH BINDER is an Assistant Professor of Economics and Environmental Studies in the Departments of Economics and Environmental Studies at St. Olaf College. His research has appeared in such journals as Ecological Economics and Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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