Nitrogen and phosphorus use efficiencies and losses in the food chain in China at regional scales in 1980 and 2005.

L. Ma, G.L. Velthof, F.H. Wang, Wei Qin, W.F. Zhang, J. Wei, J.P. Lesschen, W.Q. Ma, O. Oenema, F.S. Zhang

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217 Citations (Scopus)


Crop and animal production in China has increased significantly during the last decades, but at the cost of large increases in nitrogen (N) and phosphorus (P) losses, which contribute to ecosystem degradation and human health effects. This information is largely based on scattered field experiments, surveys and national statistics. As a consequence, there is as yet no comprehensive understanding of the changes in N and P cycling and losses at regional and national scales. Here, we present the results of an integrated assessment of the N and P use efficiencies (NUE and PUE) and N and P losses in the chain of crop and animal production, food processing and retail, and food consumption at regional scale in 1980 and 2005, using a uniform approach and databases. Our results show that the N and P costs of food production–consumption almost doubled between 1980 and 2005, but with large regional variation. The NUE and PUE of crop production decreased dramatically, while NUE and PUE in animal production increased. Interestingly, NUE and PUE of the food processing sector decreased from about 75% to 50%. Intake of N and P per capita increased, but again with large regional variation. Losses of N and P from agriculture to atmosphere and water bodies increased in most regions, especially in the east and south of the country. Highest losses were estimated for the Beijing and Tianjin metropolitan regions (North China), Pearl River Delta (South China) and Yangzi River Delta (East China). In conclusion, the changes and regional variations in NUE and PUE in the food chain of China are large and complex. Changes occurred in the whole crop and animal production, food processing and consumption chain, and were largest in the most populous areas between 1980 and 2005.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)51-61
JournalScience of the Total Environment
Publication statusPublished - 2012


  • on-farm evaluation
  • taihu lake region
  • environmental impacts
  • n2o emissions
  • agriculture
  • management
  • flows
  • plain
  • perspective
  • systems


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