High-yield mosaic: Land development in Scotland as a blueprint for South America.
Photo: © Michael Weber / TUM

13.11.2012

Scientists from the Technical University of Munich have demonstrated on a typical medium-sized farm in South America that diversified land-use not only protects the climate but can also be profitable.

Diversified land-use is not only good for climate protection but can also be profitable, said scientists from the Technical University of Munich (TUM) at the end of October 2012. They demonstrated a model for medium-sized farms in South America showing that switching away from vast mono-crops to cropping on smaller land units can also pay off financially.

Diversified land-use means planting different crops on smaller fields instead of large-scale mono-cropping, and reserving a small part of the land for woods and hedges. Previously non-used areas are replanted with trees. The individual fields have to be just large enough to allow intensive farming using fertilisers and sewing and harvesting machines. The smaller woodlands and hedges protect the soil from erosion and are long term sinks for climate-damaging CO2.
The scientists have calculated the economic viability of the approach on the basis of a typical medium-sized farm. The model hacienda is 116 hectares in size, including fields, small woodland areas and non-used land. The continent of South America has some five million family farms of this size.

A farmer switching to this model of sustainable intensive farming is first faced with higher costs caused by the reforestation work and the effort involved to break down the land into smaller fields. Nevertheless, the combination of forestry and farming on smaller fields yields positive results in the longer term, because the farmers have a wider portfolio of soya, sugar cane, maize and coffee which makes them more independent of price fluctuations.
The forest areas also earn additional income. Forest thinning delivers firewood, larger trunks are sold as building timber. Depending on which crops are harvested, within eight years at the latest, the model farm operating on a diversified land-use approach obtains higher profits than a farm specialising on one single crop. Overall, the farmer earns 19 to 25 per cent higher revenue than with large-scale cropping.

Author: TUM/ile

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