Environmental analyses to inform transitions to sustainable diets in developing countries: case studies for Vietnam and Kenya

  • Martin C. HellerEmail author
  • Abhijeet Walchale
  • Brent R. Heard
  • Lesli Hoey
  • Colin K. Khoury
  • Stef De Haan
  • Dharani Dhar Burra
  • Thi Thanh Duong
  • Jamleck Osiemo
  • Thi Huong Trinh
  • Andrew D. Jones



Sustainable diets are an environmental, economic, and public health imperative, but identifying clear intervention points is challenging. Decision-making will require descriptive analyses from a variety of perspectives, even under the inevitable uncertainty introduced by limited data. This study uses existing data to provide a diet-level perspective on environmental impact from food production in the case study countries of Vietnam and Kenya.


FAO food supply data at decadal time steps were used as a proxy for national average diets in Vietnam and Kenya. We combined these data with estimates of the greenhouse gas emissions (GHGE) and water use impact associated with producing food commodities. Generic GHGE factors were derived from a survey of the life cycle assessment literature. Country- and commodity-specific blue water use estimates were used, reflecting country-of-origin for import-dominated commodities. The AWARE characterization model was used to offer a diet-associated water scarcity footprint. Trends in diet-associated environmental impacts were interpreted in light of diet shifts, economic development trends, and other factors.

Results and discussion

Increasing per capita food supply in Vietnam, and in particular increases in meat, have led to rising diet-associated per capita GHGE. While supply of beef remains 5.2 times smaller than pork—the dominant meat—increases in beef demand in the past decade have resulted in it becoming second only to rice in contribution to diet GHGE. The water use and water scarcity footprint in Vietnam follow an increasing trend comparable to food supply. On the other hand, historically consistent levels of dairy and beef in Kenya dominate diet-level GHGE. Water use associated with the Kenyan diet shows marked increases between the 1990s and 2000s due to imports of wheat and rice from water-stressed regions. Environmental performance data for characteristic food production systems in these and other developing countries are needed to improve the representativeness and reliability of such assessments.


Despite data limitations, the methods and results presented here may offer a fresh perspective in sustainable development policy deliberations, as they offer an entry point to linking environmental impact and consumption behaviors and can elucidate otherwise obscure or unexpected outcomes. A clear need emerges for further environmental analysis of dominant production systems within both Vietnam and Kenya.


Decision-making Diet Greenhouse gas emissions Low- and middle-income countries Sustainable development goals Water use 


Funding information

This work is funded through a grant from the Graham Sustainability Institute at the University of Michigan.

Supplementary material

11367_2019_1656_MOESM1_ESM.docx (830 kb)
ESM 1 (DOCX 829 kb)
11367_2019_1656_MOESM2_ESM.xlsx (76 kb)
ESM 2 (XLSX 76 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Martin C. Heller
    • 1
    Email author
  • Abhijeet Walchale
    • 1
  • Brent R. Heard
    • 1
  • Lesli Hoey
    • 2
  • Colin K. Khoury
    • 3
  • Stef De Haan
    • 4
  • Dharani Dhar Burra
    • 4
  • Thi Thanh Duong
    • 4
  • Jamleck Osiemo
    • 5
  • Thi Huong Trinh
    • 4
    • 6
  • Andrew D. Jones
    • 7
  1. 1.Center for Sustainable Systems, School for Environment and SustainabilityUniversity of MichiganAnn ArborUSA
  2. 2.Urban and Regional Planning ProgramUniversity of MichiganAnn ArborUSA
  3. 3.International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT)CaliColombia
  4. 4.International Center for Tropical Agriculture, CIAT-AsiaHanoiVietnam
  5. 5.International Center for Tropical Agriculture, CIAT-AfricaNairobiKenya
  6. 6.Department of Mathematics and StatisticsThuongmai UniversityHanoiVietnam
  7. 7.School of Public HealthUniversity of MichiganAnn ArborUSA

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