The global cropland sparing potential of high-yield farming

Folberth, C. ORCID:, Khabarov, N. ORCID:, Balkovic, J. ORCID:, Skalsky, R. ORCID:, Visconti, P., Ciais, P., Janssens, I., Peñuelas, J., et al. (2020). The global cropland sparing potential of high-yield farming. Nature Sustainability 3 281-289. 10.1038/s41893-020-0505-x.

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Project: Effects of phosphorus limitations on Life, Earth system and Society (IMBALANCE-P, FP7 610028)


The global expansion of cropland exerts substantial pressure on natural ecosystems and is expected to continue with population growth and affluent demand. Yet earlier studies indicated that crop production could be more than doubled if attainable crop yields were achieved on present cropland. Here we show on the basis of crop modelling that closing current yield gaps by spatially optimizing fertilizer inputs and allocating 16 major crops across global cropland would allow reduction of the cropland area required to maintain present production volumes by nearly 50% of its current extent. Enforcing a scenario abandoning cropland in biodiversity hotspots and uniformly releasing 20% of cropland area for other landscape elements would still enable reducing the cropland requirement by almost 40%. As a co-benefit, greenhouse gas emissions from fertilizer and paddy rice, as well as irrigation water requirements, are likely to decrease with a reduced area of cultivated land, while global fertilizer input requirements remain unchanged. Spared cropland would provide space for substantial carbon sequestration in restored natural vegetation. Only targeted sparing of biodiversity hotspots supports species with small-range habitats, while biodiversity would hardly profit from a maximum land-sparing approach.

Item Type: Article
Research Programs: Ecosystems Services and Management (ESM)
Related URLs:
Depositing User: Luke Kirwan
Date Deposited: 16 Apr 2020 15:00
Last Modified: 27 Aug 2021 17:32

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