Scarcity and abundance of land resources: Competing uses and the shrinking land resource base

Fischer G, Hizsnyik E, Prieler S, & Wiberg D (2011). Scarcity and abundance of land resources: Competing uses and the shrinking land resource base. SOLAW Background Thematic Report - TR02; FAO, Rome, Italy

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Widespread hunger and rising global food demands (FAO, 2009) require better use of the world's water, land and ecosystems. For an estimated world population of about 9 billion in 2050, agricultural production has to increase by about 70 percent globally and by 100 percent in developing countries. An enormous effort is required to achieve the implied annual growth of nearly 1.5 percent (Bruinsma, 2009; Fischer, 2009; Godfray et al., 2010).

The following policy challenges are of particular concern: Agricultural water withdrawals amount to 70 percent of total anthropogenic water use, and irrigated crops account for 40 percent of the world's total production (FAO, 2003). This makes the agriculture sector of critical social importance, responsible for massive environmental impacts and vulnerable to competition for land and water resources.

Land and water uses for food production regularly compete with other ecosystem services. Ignoring such conflicts over resource use and tradeoffs can lead to unsustainable exploitation, environmental degradation and avoidable long-term social costs. Overcoming this limitation requires better understanding and management of competing uses of land, water and ecosystem services. This includes robust expansion of food and bio-energy production, sustaining regulating ecosystem functions, protecting and preserving global gene pools and enhancing terrestrial carbon pools.

The prospect of meeting future water demand is limited by the declining possibilities of tapping additional sources of freshwater, and by the decreasing quality of water resources caused by pollution and waste. Freshwater resources are unevenly distributed, and many countries and locations suffer severe water scarcity (MEA, 2005).

Climate change is happening, and further global warming in the coming decades seems unavoidable (IPCC, 2007). Food and water provision, land management, and the protection of nature face the immediate need to develop location-specific coping strategies, to use resources differently, to reduce systemic volatility and to safeguard the full range of ecosystem services.

The range of land uses for human needs is limited by environmental factors including climate, topography, and soil characteristics. Land use is primarily determined by demographic and socio-economic drivers, cultural practices and political factors, such as land tenure, markets, institutions and agricultural policies. Good quality and availability of land and water resources, together with important socio-economic and institutional factors, is essential for food security.

FAO, in collaboration with IIASA, has developed a system that enables rational land-use planning based on an inventory of land resources, and evaluation of biophysical limitations and production potentials. The Agro-Ecological Zones (AEZ) approach is based on robust principles of land evaluation. The current Global AEZ (GAEZ-2009) offers a standardized framework for the characterization of climate, soil and terrain conditions relevant to agricultural production, which can be applied at global to subnational levels.

Item Type: Other
Research Programs: Ecosystems Services and Management (ESM)
Modeling Land-Use and Land-Cover Changes (LUC)
Bibliographic Reference: SOLAW Background Thematic Report - TR02; FAO, Rome, Italy
Depositing User: IIASA Import
Date Deposited: 15 Jan 2016 08:45
Last Modified: 17 Feb 2016 12:32

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