Agronomy Research Expertise in Montpellier and Languedoc-Roussillon (South of France)

Agronomy : crops and cropping systems

Keywords :

Comprehensive environmental assessment of agricultural and food products–a case study of fruit and vegetables

2. Minimizing the impact of cropping on biogeochemical cycles

2. Minimizing the impact of cropping on biogeochemical cycles

Tomatoes in La Réunion - © CIRAD Environmental impacts of human societies are mainly associated with the food function. Understanding and, if possible, quantifying relationships between modes of production and food consumption and their environmental impacts (climate change, ecotoxicity, eutrophication, water use, etc.) are essential for making the necessary changes. Streamlined comprehensive assessment tools are required for environmental labelling of products consumed in France, as stipulated under the Loi Grenelle 2 (domestic or imported products), or for increasing the ecological performance (impact per produced unit) of production systems in developing countries.

The life cycle analysis (LCA) method (ISO 14040-14044, 2006) is a powerful conceptual framework for overall environmental assessment of different functions necessary to humans, based especially on the function (and functional unit), life cycle of a function (see figure below) and multicriteria evaluation concepts. However, using it for agricultural and food product systems in the tropics is very recent and poses many methodological and scientific challenges. CIRAD’s PERSYST department has decided to devote research to meeting this new challenge, and biomass-energy subsectors, tree crops, agrifood production, organic waste recycling in agriculture, irrigated crops such as rice, animal and horticultural production are now the focus of ambitious LCA projects aimed at developing specific methods for this new scope of application.

In this setting, the HortSys research unit focuses studies on environmental impacts associated with implementation of the nutritional function of fruits and vegetables. This function is crucial for balancing peoples’ diets in industrialized and developing countries. A research initiative is currently being set up on vegetables (case study on tomato) and tree products (citrus and mango). The goal is especially to develop methods that take the nutritional quality of products into account when defining functional units, that provide reliable estimates of direct emissions in the field, and that can assess the water footprint and toxicity, and the error range in results.

Claudine Basset-Mens,
Thierry Tran,
Cécile Bessou,
Anthony Benoist,
Tom Wassenaar,
Sylvain Perret,
& Jonathan Vayssières,

Publication date: 30/05/2010


Simplified diagram of the lifecycle of a food product ‘from the cradle to the grave’



Update on 19/04/12


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