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Sustainable land-use concept for South America

Intensive farming with a climate-friendly touch: Farming/woodland mix increases yields

Diagram showing monoculture and diversified land-use concepts
Diversified land development: Different crops combined with hedges and wooded areas maintain soil quality and help protect the climate. (Picture: Thomas Knoke / Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment)

Research news

In the world of agriculture, climate protection and intensive farming are generally assumed to be a contradiction in terms. At Technische Universität München (TUM), however, scientists have come up with a new land development concept that could change this view. The new model is tailored to medium-sized farms in South America and sees farmers transitioning from large-scale monoculture to more diverse crop mixtures spread over smaller plots interspersed with wooded areas – a switch that can bring significant financial benefits.

Each year, huge carbon stores are lost as a result of deforestation. In South America, around four million hectares of forest are cut down every year. As a result, international climate protection programs are planning to financially compensate farmers who preserve forests or plant new trees. Demand for land is rising, however. And growing need for food and energy crops will inevitably lead to conflicts of interest over fertile land in countries such as Brazil and Ecuador.

Thomas Knoke and Michael Weber at Technische Universität München (TUM) firmly believe that intensive, high-yield agricultural practices can go hand-in-hand with climate and environmental protection. The two scientists and their colleagues have developed a “diversified land-use” concept for medium-sized holdings in South America based on an idea originally developed by retired TUM professor, Wolfgang Haber. The new concept encourages farmers to move away from large-scale monocropping and plant a mix of field crops on smaller plots, while at the same time setting aside part of their land for forests and hedges. Any unused land will be reforested. The smaller plots of farmland will still be large enough for intensive farming practices using fertilizers, planting machines and harvesters. The interspersed wooded areas and hedges will protect the soil from erosion and serve as long-term carbon stores. 

Diagram showing monoculture and diversified land-use concepts
Diversified land development: Different crops combined with hedges and wooded areas maintain soil quality and help protect the climate. (Picture: Thomas Knoke / Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment)
Reforestation in the Andes
Growing returns: Reforestation of unused and degraded land provides new sources of income. (Picture: Thomas Knoke / TUM)
Land developmentin Scotland
High-yield mosaic: Land development in Scotland as a blueprint for South America. (Picture: Michael Weber / TUM)