Recent hydrological modelling and Earth observations have located and quantified alarming rates of groundwater depletion worldwide. This depletion is primarily due to water withdrawals for irrigation but its connection with the main driver of irrigation, global food consumption, has not yet been explored. Here we show that approximately eleven per cent of non-renewable groundwater use for irrigation is embedded in international food trade, of which two-thirds are exported by Pakistan, the USA and India alone.

Safeguarding the world’s remaining forests is a high-priority goal. We assess the biophysical option space for feeding the world in 2050 in a hypothetical zero-deforestation world. We systematically combine realistic assumptions on future yields, agricultural areas, livestock feed and human diets. For each scenario, we determine whether the supply of crop products meets the demand and whether the grazing intensity stays within plausible limits. We find that many options exist to meet the global food supply in 2050 without deforestation, even at low crop-yield levels.