Showing results for: Land
Just under 40% of the entire terrestrial surface of our planet is used for agriculture, the vast majority of this for pasture. The land area which can be defined as wilderness – areas where humans have little influence – accounts for around 20% of the total land area and this extent is diminishing. These wilderness areas are, however, vital for the continued existence of wildlife plant species, and ecosystem services. As human populations grow and their lifestyle and consumption patterns become more resource demanding, the pressure on land use is increasing, and the multiple uses we have for land are often in competition with one another. Different cultures define ownership and rights to use land in contrasting ways, making land not only a precious resource but often a focus of contention too.
A recent paper uses data from three countries (Ghana, Mexico and Poland) to determine whether more carbon can be kept in above-ground stocks by land sparing (increasing farms yields to minimise the conversion of natural habitats to farmland) or land sharing (increasing carbon stocks on farms, at the cost of converting more natural habitat to farmland because of lower yields). Land sparing maintained the highest above-ground carbon stocks in all cases studied.
If everyone in the world ate a diet consistent with the United States Department of Agriculture’s dietary guidelines, we would need more additional farmland than the amount of fertile land available, claims a recent paper.
Our thanks go to FCRN member Emma Garnett for bringing to our attention a recent paper that investigates how land use could change if consumption were to shift away from meat and towards seafood from aquaculture. Aquaculture systems frequently use feed that is made from land-based crops. The paper studied two aquaculture-heavy scenarios (one using only marine aquaculture, and one using the current ratio of marine to freshwater aquaculture) where all additional meat consumption in 2050 (compared to today) is replaced by aquaculture products. Compared to a business-as-usual scenario for 2050, the aquaculture scenarios use around one-fifth less land to produce feed crops, because of the relative efficiency of aquatic organisms (compared to land-based animals) in converting feed into food that can be eaten by humans.
The European Commission's Joint Research Centre has published a new World Atlas of Desertification, which provides maps of different factors relevant to desertification such as land use, human appropriation of biological productivity, virtual water use, smallholder agriculture and livestock production.
Trase - a partnership between the Stockholm Environment Institute and Global Canopy - has released the Trase Yearbook 2018, which presents the latest insights on the sustainability of global agricultural commodity supply chains associated with tropical deforestation: the focus this year is on soy. The Trase Yearbook highlights how just six companies account for 57% of Brazilian soy exports. Taken together, the supply chains of these six traders are associated with two-thirds of the total deforestation risk directly linked to soy expansion, the majority of it in the Cerrado, one of the world’s most biodiverse savannahs.
US media organisation NPR discusses the tensions between housing developers and people who use vacant city plots for food production. Around 15% of land in US cities is classed as “vacant”. Urban farms on vacant land can be an important source of fresh food in some low-income neighbourhoods, but this can clash with the need for more housing. New York City council has passed an urban agriculture bill in an attempt to give urban farmers some control over how land is used.
The Hoffmann Centre at UK think tank Chatham House has produced a summary of a workshop held in January 2018 on policy implications of widespread deployment of negative emissions technologies. The workshop concluded that bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS) cannot be used at the scale assumed in emissions pathways compliant with the Paris agreement, because it would cause large land use change in regions of high biodiversity and compete with food production for land. Nevertheless, some BECCS may be needed. Direct air capture would use less land than BECCS, but there are economic and technical barriers.
This book, by Annoula Paschalidou, Michael Tsatiris, Kyriaki Kitikidou and Christina Papadopoulou, identifies the challenges and opportunities surrounding the conflict between food production and energy crop production.
FCRN member Ben Phalan of the Universidade Federal da Bahia has written a paper discussing the strengths and limitations of the land sparing-sharing framework, which aims to allocate land use and production intensity so as to maximise the value of land for wildlife while still producing enough food for people. He notes that most studies show that wildlife would be favoured by producing food intensely on as little land as possible, and addresses some common criticisms of the model.
The electronic Rothamsted Archive provides data on agricultural experiments (starting in 1843) and weather records (since 1853). A recent paper gives an official account of the history of the archive. The archive includes results of experiments on wheat, permanent grassland, barley, woodland and rotational systems.
Data visualisations by Max Roser and Hannah Ritchie, published at Our World In Data, show global land use types, changes over time and land use in agriculture. For example, a graph shows that half of the Earth’s habitable land surface is used for agriculture, of which 77% is used for livestock (including both grazing land and land for feed production). For comparison, livestock accounts for 17% of global calorie supply and 33% of global protein supply.
In a feature in Civil Eats, agricultural attorney Jillian Hishaw describes some of the difficulties that black farmers have faced in the US, including systematic denial of loans, exclusion from disaster payments, and lack of official paperwork for land that was passed on from slave owners. Hishaw founded the Family Agriculture Resource Management Services (FARMS) to help farmers who are black or from other historically disadvantaged groups to keep their land.
This open access book, edited by Kate Schreckenberg, Georgina Mace and Mahesh Poudyal, explores the link between ecosystems services and alleviating poverty. Topics include trade-offs associated with land intensification, population dynamics, governance for ecosystem health and human wellbeing, and payments for ecosystems services.
The paper presents land use scenarios that provide enough food for 9 billion people, biodiversity protection and terrestrial carbon storage while staying inside the planetary boundaries for land and water use. The main features of these scenarios are improved agricultural productivity (through reducing the gap between current and maximum potential crop yields, and replacing some ruminant meat production with pork and poultry) and redistribution of agricultural production to areas with relatively high productivity and water supplies but low existing levels of biodiversity.
The book “Agricultural Development and Sustainable Intensification: Technology and Policy Challenges in the Face of Climate Change”, edited by Udaya Sekhar Nagothu, examines different approaches to sustainable intensification and presents case studies from around the world.
Better models are needed to assess and manage conflicting requirements for ecosystems services from land, a recent paper argues. These “uber integrated assessment models”, as the paper calls them, would help decision-makers to better understand the links between local and global land use policies.
Tropical deforestation is nearing a critical point, beyond which the rate of forest fragmentation could increase much more rapidly than the rate of forest area loss, according to a study. Fragmentation can have negative effects on biodiversity and also increases carbon emissions beyond those from just the deforested areas, since trees are at greater risk of dying on the edges between forest and cleared land. The researchers predict that reforestation and a reduction in the rate of deforestation are both needed if fragmentation is to be reversed.