The per capita ecological footprint (EF) is a useful tool to compare consumption with nature's ability to support this consumption. Guyuan is an economically impoverished region in China, where EF provides important insights into whether human consumption can be sustained by the local per capita biological capacity (BC), which represents the environment’s ability to support resource use. We estimated the EF of food consumption using local equivalence and yield factors, and compared EF in 1998 and 2013 with BC, which represented the existing biologically productive area (including cultivated land, grassland, forest, and water bodies) that supports this consumption. Data were collected from household surveys, government statistics, and land use maps. We found that food consumption changed, with decreasing consumption of staple foods and increasing consumption of meat, eggs, milk, edible oils, fruit, and vegetables. Decreased staple food consumption decreased the EF for this food group, but the large increase in meat consumption greatly increased EF from meat production (to more than 41 times the 1998 value). Cultivated land contributed greatly to both EF and BC, and staple foods and vegetables were the main EF components for this land. Overall, EF from food consumption decreased from 1998 to 2013, but local BC remained 188,356 ha below EF (i.e., current consumption is not sustainable based on local resources). The Grain for Green program, which focuses on increasing the BC of forest and grassland by replacing degraded cultivated land with these land use types, decreased the BC of cultivated land, leading to wide spatial variation in both EF and BC. These results will inform policy development by revealing the condition of each region’s use of the locally available production resources.
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