Knowledge for better food systems

Showing results for: Land footprint

Image: Bicanski, Organic apple fruits on tree, Pixnio, CC0 Public domain
24 July 2018

This review paper reports that organic agriculture has lower yields than conventional agriculture, by 19-25% on average across all crops, according to three meta-analyses. Lower yields may be due to the lack of use of synthetic fertilisers - organic systems are often limited by low levels of nitrogen or phosphorus - and higher susceptibility to pest outbreaks. Widespread uptake of organic farming (to produce the same amounts of output as today) would probably require some conversion of natural habitats to farmland, because of this lower land-use efficiency compared to conventional agriculture - an important consideration, as the area of certified organic production has increased from 15 million ha in 2000 to 51 million ha in 2015 (although this is only 1% of agricultural land).

Image: Richard W.M. Jones~commonswiki, Broad beans, shelled and steamed, Wikimedia Commons, Public domain
24 July 2018

Current crop production levels could feed a population of 9.7 billion people in 2050, according to a recent paper, but only in a future in which there are socio-economic changes, significant shifts in diets towards plant-based foods, and limited biofuel production. Without dietary changes, crop production would have to increase by 119% by 2050.

Image: Claude Covo-Farchi, Mussels at Trouville fish market, Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic
17 July 2018

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.

Image: Eric Jones, An enclave of grazing land south of Tyddyn Du, Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic
21 May 2018

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.​

Image: European Space Agency, Central-eastern Brazil, Flickr, Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic
15 May 2018

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.

12 December 2017

The planetary boundaries concept provides a theoretical upper limit on human activity which the planet is able to sustain without major perturbation to the current ‘Earth system’. Previously, nine planetary boundaries (PBs) have been proposed and recently Steffen et al. (2015) have updated these boundary definitions and assessed the current state of the position of human activity with respect to each boundary. In this article, researchers from a number of food, climate change, agricultural and environmental research institutions around the world build on this work by assessing the impact of agriculture on each PB status, based on a detailed literature review of the available research.

14 November 2017

The new report by World Wildlife Fund, Appetite for Destruction, highlights the vast amount of land that is needed to grow the crops used for animal feed, including in some of the planet’s most vulnerable areas such as the Amazon, Congo Basin and the Himalayas.

Photo: mrskyce, Nitrogen!, Flickr, Creative Commons License 2.0 generic.
7 June 2017

This paper proposes a solution to the problems associated with the high inefficiencies and indirect detrimental environmental impacts caused by reactive nitrogen use in agriculture.The researchers suggest that land-based agriculture could be bypassed and that Haber Bosch derived nitrogen could be used directly for reactor based microbial protein production. The advantages of microbial protein production are summarised, as are the opportunities and technical challenges for large-scale production. The authors emphasise that, aside from the scientific innovation required, the main challenge to address is obtaining acceptability from regulators and consumers.

1 June 2017

This information brief is included in Science Journal for Kids, a resource dedicated to sharing cutting edge peer-reviewed environmental research with students (and their teachers).

Photo: Sarah, A Tasty Snack, Flickr, Creative Commons License 2.0 generic.
26 May 2017

This paper compares stylised, hypothetical dietary scenarios to assess the potential for reducing agricultural land requirements. It suggests that a combination of smaller shifts in consumer diet behaviour – such as reducing beef consumption by replacing with chicken, introducing insects into mainstream diets and reducing consumer waste – could reduce agricultural land requirements.

24 March 2017

The authors of this paper compare the impact of intensification in the beef and dairy sectors via two pathways; either intensification within a system (e.g. a mixed crop-livestock system) or through transitioning to another more productive system (from pasture to mixed crop-livestock production) and assesses the mitigation potential that could arise.   It reviews the impacts of these forms of intensification on both GHG emissions, land occupation and land use change (LUC), the last of which has often been excluded in other similar analyses.  

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