Knowledge for better food systems

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.

31 March 2020

According to the Freedom of Information request made by the UK non-profit Sustainable Soils Alliance (SSA), the UK government spent only £283,780 on monitoring soil health in England in the year 2017/18, compared to £60.5 million on monitoring freshwater and £7.7 million on monitoring air.

31 March 2020

This paper uses a case study of Sheffield, UK, to explore the area of land potentially available to grow fruit and vegetables within urban areas, including both soil-based horticulture as well as soil-free controlled-environment horticulture on flat roofs. 

31 March 2020

This paper reviews the evidence base around using soil organic carbon as a climate change mitigation measure. It notes that such climate solutions encompass both increasing soil carbon in soils that have not reached their maximum possible carbon content, and conserving carbon in soils that already have a high carbon content (thus avoiding losses that might otherwise have taken place).

10 March 2020

According to this meta-analysis of 60 studies, cover crops on agricultural land can increase soil microbial abundance, activity, and diversity relative to land left bare between crops, with the effect varying with climate and how the farm is managed (e.g. tilling). The paper does not discuss the extent to which this change in soil microbiome affects crop yields.

3 March 2020

This report from the UK’s RSA Food, Farming and Countryside Commission examines four key areas of Devon’s food system: grassland and livestock production, environment and biodiversity, health and thriving communities, and new entrants to farming.

24 February 2020

This report from the intergovernmental Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development draws on the experiences of Brazil, France, Indonesia, Ireland, Mexico and New Zealand to examine how land use policy can be aligned with climate, biodiversity and food objectives.

18 February 2020

This book explores the many factors influencing how land use decisions are made, including culture, values, ethics, trade, governance and pressure on farmland.

10 February 2020

This report, commissioned by the UK countryside charity CPRE, assesses the current state of “county farms” - i.e. farms owned by local authorities, sometimes let out at below-market rates to assist new entrants to farming. It finds that the area of county farms has halved in the past 40 years as a result of being sold off.

10 February 2020

This paper assesses the rate of soil erosion in different countries, aiming to separate the effect of varying landscapes from the effect of different national territories, e.g. through different agricultural policies or management patterns. As an example of a sharp discontinuity in soil erosion between neighbouring countries, visible on satellite images, the paper shows the difference between Haiti (with a high soil erosion rate) and the Dominican Republic (with greater forest cover and a lower soil erosion rate) - two countries that would have similar natural soil erosion rates in the absence of human activity. 

3 February 2020

This paper used satellites to observe the effect on yield of conservation tillage practices, such as reducing soil disturbance and leaving crop residues in the field, in the United States Corn Belt. The researchers found that long-term conservation tillage (i.e. from 2008 to 2017) was associated with a 3.3% increase in maize yields and a 0.74% yield increase for soybeans.

28 January 2020

The UK’s Committee on Climate Change (CCC) has set out its policy recommendations on agriculture and land use, aiming to reduce the UK’s land-based emissions by 64% by 2050. The CCC estimates that its recommendations could produce £4 billion worth of benefits each year, including reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, recreational value of new woodland, better air quality and flood alleviation.

13 January 2020

In the documentary Apocalypse Cow, environmentalist and writer George Monbiot argues that much of the current farming system (except for fruit and vegetable production) will be replaced by food from microbes, freeing up large areas of land for rewilding and carbon sequestration. He also calls for fruit and vegetable farming to be reformed, e.g. by using deep-rooted cover crops to build soil fertility.

13 January 2020

This book explores how people can work with natural landscapes and harvest resources sustainably. Examples in the book include cocoa farming in Ghana, orchards in Kent, palm oil production in Borneo and monocrop cultivation in the UK.

13 January 2020

This report from international consultancy SYSTEMIQ sets out how farmers in different regions across Europe can transition profitably to regenerative agricultural practices. It estimates that soil degradation currently costs the European Union €97 billion per year, mostly in damage to human health. 

2 December 2019

In this blog post, Samuel Smith of international sustainability non-profit Forum for the Future sets out research he intends to conduct on how regenerative agriculture is understood, the strategies that could be used to scale it up, and how the food system would be affected by widespread conversion to regenerative agriculture.

25 November 2019

Some conservationists propose a “Half Earth” strategy, whereby half of the Earth’s land and half of its sea would be set aside for natural ecosystems. This paper assesses the number and geographical distribution of people who could be affected by the Half Earth conservation plan.

25 November 2019

This paper modelled the food system changes in Europe that would allow enough afforestation, reforestation and avoided deforestation to meet European climate targets while also providing enough food. Most scenarios relied on significant yield improvements and reductions in meat consumption.

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