A land system science perspective on sustainable intensification

Authors: Allison Thomson*, Field to Market, Erle Ellis, University of Maryland- Baltimore County, Ricardo Grau, Universidad Nacional de Tucumán, Tobias Kuemmerle, Humboldt-University Berlin, Patrick Meyfroidt, Université catholique de Louvain, Navin Ramankutty, University of British Columbia, Gete Zeleke, Water and Land Resources Center
Topics: Land Use and Land Cover Change, Coupled Human and Natural Systems, Sustainability Science
Keywords: land systems science, sustainable intensification, agriculture, food security
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/5/2019
Start / End Time: 1:10 PM / 2:50 PM
Room: Coolidge, Marriott, Mezzanine Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Sustainable intensification of agricultural production is a global challenge for achieving future food security and protecting the environment. Land systems science is at the intersection of the many scales and disciplines that together inform what approaches are sustainable in a given context. Here, we focus on major research findings and developments on the environmental implications of sustainable intensification across scales, from plants to fields, from farms to landscapes, and from nations to the globe, and what these mean for future directions of land systems science. While sustainable routes to agricultural intensification must be designed for local contexts, we identify six common dimensions of sustainable intensification arising from this focus on environmental impacts: increasing input efficiency, minimizing nutrient and chemical loss to the environment, maintaining the long-term productive capacity of the land, minimizing natural habitat conversion and disturbance, maximizing the environmental value of agricultural lands, and optimizing the spatial pattern of land use to minimize environmental impact. A common theme across all scales was that there is no single answer to how these six dimensions of intensification can be achieved sustainably; rather, the ecological characteristics, level of homogeneity, and specific trade-offs will determine the most sustainable future agricultural system in any given region. This context dependency for identifying solutions is uniquely suited to exploration by land systems science.

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