Using Food Flow Data to Assess Sustainability: Land Use Displacement and Regional Decoupling in Quintana Roo, Mexico


Food flow data provide unique insights into the debates surrounding the sustainability of land based production and consumption at multiple scales. Trade flows disguise the spatial correspondence of production and consumption and make their connection to land difficult. Two key components of this spatial disjuncture are land use displacement and economic regional decoupling. By displacing the environmental impact associated with food production from one region to another, environmental trajectories can falsely appear to be sustainable at a particular site or scale. When regional coupling is strong, peripheral areas where land based production occurs are strongly linked and proximate to consumption centers, and the environmental impact of production activities is visible. When food flows occur over longer distances, regional coupling weakens, and environmental impact is frequently overlooked. In this study, we present an analysis of a locally collected food flow dataset containing agricultural and livestock products transported to and from counties in Quintana Roo (QRoo). QRoo is an extensively forested border state in southeast Mexico, which was fully colonized by the state and non-native settlers only in the last century and now is home to some of the major tourist destinations. To approximate land displacement and regional decoupling, we decompose flows to and from QRoo by (1) direction; (2) product types and; (3) scale. Results indicate that QRoo is predominantly a consumer state: incoming flows outnumber outgoing flows by a factor of six, while exports are few, specialized, and with varied geographic reach (Yucatan, south and central Mexico, USA). Imports come predominantly from central Mexico. Local production in QRoo accounts for a small portion of its total consumption. In combining both subsets of agricultural and livestock products, we found that in most years, land consumption requirements were above 100% of the available land not under conservation in QRoo, suggesting unsustainable rates of land consumption in a ´business as usual´ scenario. We found evidence of economic regional decoupling at the state level.

In Sustainability