Another day, another sunflower because, why not? But this story is about much more than the overwhelming attractiveness of sunflowers:
How do you feed an increasing number of people without harming the environment?
As it turns out, growing as much food as possible in a small area may be our best bet for sustainably feeding the world’s population, according to new research.
It all comes down to how we manage greenhouse gases and climate change.
People often associate greenhouse emissions with burning fossil fuels, but farming makes a lot of them, too. That’s because farms usually replace natural vegetation, like trees, which store carbon.
Farmers who wish to minimize their carbon footprint have traditionally held two philosophies, says David Williams, the lead author of a paper published last week in the journal Current Biology.
The first philosophy, known as “land-sharing,” involves maximizing the amount of carbon stored on farmland. “This can mean things like planting trees in a field, or maintaining little patches of non-crop habitat on your farm,” explains Williams.
But land-sharing has a cost.
“You almost certainly lower your agricultural yields,” says Williams. “That means you won’t be able to produce the same amount of food per unit area.”
So, if each piece of land produces less food, more pieces of land will have to be farmed to maintain the same level of production.
The other philosophy for agricultural carbon mitigation called “land sparing” maximizes the per-acre yield without worrying about carbon storage.
Since yields are higher, less land is needed to produce the same amount of food. This means that uncultivated land can then be preserved as natural habitat.
Williams and his team wanted to know which strategy was best for storing carbon. To answer this question, they measured the amount of carbon stored in farms and natural areas from three agricultural regions in Mexico, Ghana, and Poland.
Then, the scientists used data from the farmers and the governments to estimate how much food was being grown on each farm. Williams could then extrapolate the data to determine whether “land-sharing” or “land-sparing” resulted in more carbon storage at a defined level of food production.
The results were clear.
“We found that the least damaging strategy was the land-sparing strategy,” says Williams…
Read the whole story here.