Journal Article

Global cropland could be almost halved: Assessment of land saving potentials under different strategies and implications for agricultural markets

Authors

  • Julia M. Schneider
  • Florian Zabel
  • Franziska Schünemann
  • Ruth Delzeit
  • Wolfram Mauser
Publication Date

The pressure on land resources continuously increases not only with the rising demand for agricultural commodities, but also with the growing need for action on global challenges, such as biodiversity loss or climate change, where land plays a crucial role. Land saving as a strategy, where agricultural productivity is increased to allow a reduction of required cropland while sustaining production volumes and meeting demand, could address this tradeoff. With our interdisciplinary model-based study, we globally assess regional potentials of land saving and analyze resulting effects on agricultural production, prices and trade. Thereby, different land saving strategies are investigated that (1) minimize required cropland (2) minimize spatial marginalization induced by land saving and (3) maximize the attainable profit. We find that current cropland requirements could be reduced between 37% and 48%, depending on the applied land saving strategy. The generally more efficient use of land would cause crop prices to fall in all regions, but also trigger an increase in global agricultural production of 2.8%. While largest land saving potentials occur in regions with high yield gaps, the impacts on prices and production are strongest in highly populated regions with already high pressure on land. Global crop prices and trade affect regional impacts of land saving on agricultural markets and can displace effects to spatially distant regions. Our results point out the importance of investigating the potentials and effects of land saving in the context of global markets within an integrative, global framework. The resulting land saving potentials can moreover reframe debates on global potentials for afforestation and carbon sequestration, as well as on how to reconcile agricultural production and biodiversity conservation and thus contribute to approaching central goals of the 21st century, addressed for example in the Sustainable Development Goals, the Paris Agreement or the post-2020 global biodiversity framework.