Efficient spatial planning needed to protect croplands

Urbanisation is eating up fertile farmland around the world. According to German researchers, its up to urban planners to stop this troubling trend.

Around 300,000 square kilometres of fertile cropland will be lost by the year 2030 as a result of rapid urbanisation, according to the Mercator Research Institute on Global Commons and Climate Change (MCC) in Berlin. What’s more, global urbanisation is taking place on agricultural land that is almost twice as fertile as the world average.

Seen another way, the food produced on that area would be enough to provide more than 300 million people with 2,500 calories per day – for an entire year.

The loss of cropland will be especially severe in Asia, which has the highest absolute growth of the urban population, and Africa, which has the highest urbanisation rates. And the food production loss cannot easily be compensated for in other ways, which in turn could have a grave impact on the world food system.

For their research, the researchers took land-use data on global croplands and crop yields and calculated the productivity of this land using the aggregated production of the 16 most important food crops, including maize, rice, soybeans and wheat. They then compared this data with projections of urban area expansion.

As the researchers discovered, the land-use conflict between urbanisation and food production can differ markedly from one global region to the next.

“A lot depends on the urbanisation dynamics of the individual countries,” said lead author Bren d’Amour. In India, for example, the loss of cropland will be significantly lower than in other regions because it has slower, and smaller scale, urbanisation process.

For the study’s authors, responsibility to stop this troubling trend falls on the shoulders of city planners.

“Policy-makers at the municipal level are now called on to take action. Their time has come, since urban planning is now part and parcel of world policy,” said Felix Creutzig, head of the MCC Working Group on Land Use, Infrastructure and Transport.

“Urban planners can contribute to preventing small farmers from losing their livelihoods. Spatially efficient urbanisation could help to retain the existing agricultural system while continuing to provide small farmers with access to the urban food market.”

 

Image credit: Daxis, flickr

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