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The research catalogue is an archive of ESRC-funded grants and outputs. Links, files and other content will no longer be maintained or updated after April 2014.

The transition to a sustainable bio-economy: innovation and expectations

Grant reference: RES-180-25-0005

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Occasional paper details

Competition for land : food and energy
During the 21st century, land as a global resource is likely to become the focus of intensified competition between a variety of uses. Moreover, the competing uses are likely to become subject to increasing controversy, in terms of the claims made by those promoting those uses, and in terms of potentially conflicting national, regional and global interests. The main focus of this short paper is to consider these developments in the light of two underlying drivers for increased competition for land: the increasing demand for energy, particularly with respect to transport (terrestrial and air); and the increasing demand for food, both to meet growing world population and in meeting changes to, and improvements in, nutrition and quality of food. Some recent debate has staked a primacy of claim over land use for production of food (World Bank, 2008; FAO, 2008). However, failure to address the demand for energy and materials, in particular to develop alternatives to counter the depletion of petro-chemical resources, will inevitably result in major economic and social disruption on a global scale. Enhanced and sustainable social welfare will depend on developing new forms of both energy and agricultural production of food. In both respects, this paper highlights the significance of ‘the sustainable intensification of global agriculture’ (Royal Society, 2009; Pretty, 2008; Godfray et al. 2010). This paper focuses on the issues raised by the new competition for land, particularly in relation to food, energy, and climate change, rather than the increasing demands for the production of food as such.

Primary contributor

Author Mark Harvey

Additional contributors

Author Sarah Pilgrim


land; biofuels; agriculture; climatic changes; peak oil; land use; land resources; natural resources; energy resources; food resources; sustainable development

Additional details

Paper commissioned by Sir John Beddington, HM Chief Scientific Advisor, to analyse the competition for land between alternative demands for biofuels and food, for the Foresight Project on Global Food and Farming Futures.
The Royal Society
01 January 2010