You are here : Home > News > Reducing cultivated land area by half in the interest of climate and biodiversity

Scientific result | Agronomy | Environment | Climate | Biodiversity

Reducing cultivated land area by half in the interest of climate and biodiversity

​An international collaboration involving the LSCE (CEA-CNRS-UVSQ) is proposing an agronomic scenario that is beneficial for the climate and biodiversity: cultivated areas reduced by half, without changing the input volumes, could be as productive as they are today if our practices are revised on a global scale.
Published on 5 May 2020

The global expansion in cropland, which is expected to continue at the same pace as the growth in world population, is putting considerable pressure on natural ecosystems.

Their cultivation leads to major imbalances: while intensively cultivated lands receive excessive amounts of nitrogen (N) and phosphorus (P), low-input, nutrient-poor agricultural lands suffer from low yields.

Moreover, irrigation consumes about 70% of freshwater resources and the cultivation of agricultural land contributes about 5% of global anthropogenic greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions – mainly methane (CH4) from the cultivation of paddy rice (unhusked) and nitrous oxide (N2O) emitted from soils treated with nitrogen fertilizers and manure.

Thanks to modeling, the researchers have shown that it would be possible to increase current crop yields by optimizing fertilizer inputs and by more evenly allocating sixteen major crops across global cropland.

These measures could allow reducing the cropland area needed to maintain present production volumes by nearly 50%, with no change in the quantity of fertilizers on a global scale. As a point of reference, abandoning cropland in the principal biodiversity hot spots and uniformly releasing 20% of cultivated lands is equivalent to reducing the current cropland area by almost 40%.

Finally, this new configuration would offer the advantage of moderating greenhouse gas emissions attributable to fertilizers and paddy rice, as well as irrigation water requirements. To top it all off, land that was previously cultivated and now spared would regain its ability to sequester carbon in the restored natural vegetation.

Top page