Urbanisation leads to a loss of agriculturally valuable land.
Photo: ©FAO/Riccardo De Luca

Growing pressure on land

Land-use changes across the globe are putting growing pressure on land as a source of livelihood. Researchers are concerned about the loss of agricultural land; they emphasise the importance of biodiversity and call for a more sustainable lifestyle.

Biodiversity is decreasing almost everywhere, researchers from Mercator Institute on Global Commons and Climate Change (MCC) in Berlin, Germany, warn in January 2019. The researchers studied land-use changes across the globe with regard to biodiversity, agricultural use, carbon storage and urbanisation for the years 2000 to 2010.

According to them, the global pressure on land as a natural source of livelihood has grown significantly in recent years. While land serving as a foundation for ecosystems and biodiversity is disappearing the fastest, land for agricultural use is likewise dwindling at an alarming speed in many parts of the world.

The fastest species loss is observed in the Amazon and in Indonesia. Agricultural land, for its part, is dwindling most significantly in China, India and northern Africa. And population growth is fastest in India and sub-Saharan Africa. The land-use changes are directly related.

The link between land-use change and population growth

First of all, urbanisation invariably leads to direct intervention in ecosystems at the expense of agriculturally valuable land. Yet the loss of land to urbanisation is, as such, less worrisome than the fact that this involves the loss of the world’s most productive agricultural areas. For example, because of Cairo’s expansion into the Nile Delta, Egypt is increasingly reliant on food imports.

Secondly, changing lifestyles as well as increasing population growth is putting pressure in particular on ecosystems at the broader peripheries of densely-populated areas. One example is the savannah in West Africa, where rural population growth is accompanied by an increasing agricultural output.

Third, the researchers observe that interventions in ecosystems are driven by global causes. For example, Europeans have made strides in recent decades in the conservation of their natural environment; yet their demand for Brazilian soybeans, chicken from Lower Saxony or Chinese pigs means that more and more of the Brazilian Amazon is disappearing - one of our largest and most valuable ecosystems on the planet. Similarly, the demand for palm oil from Indonesia is associated with a drastic loss of Indonesian tropical forests. This remote impact also calls German and European consumers, and their local food policies, to accountability, the researchers say.

In land use, the impact of climate change is in part random, meaning that climate change may be good or bad for a given area of land. It has been determined that the worlds’ land surface is already undergoing change as a result of climate change. This includes the greening of the Siberian tundra, which is accompanied by significant releases of methane, an effective greenhouse gas; a growing loss of agricultural land in Australia due to drought; and a change in the African savannah due to new patterns of precipitation.


Felix Creutzig, Christopher Bren d’Amour, Ulf Weddinge, Sabine Fuss, Assessing human and environmental pressures of global land-use change 2000–2010, doi:10.1017/sus.2018.15: 

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