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Symposium 2015

Virtual Library File - Global Agricultural Land Resources – A High Resolution Suitability Evaluation and Its Perspectives until 2100 under Climate Change Conditions

The Challenge

In order to secure the demand for food and biomass by a growing population, the production of biomass needs to double by 2050. Recent studies agree that better crop management on today’s cropland co ...

In order to secure the demand for food and biomass by a growing population, the production of biomass needs to double by 2050. Recent studies agree that better crop management on today’s cropland could increase biomass production by only about 60% (Bruinsma 2011, Tilman et al. 2011). This may be achieved by, for instance, expanding cropland, changing diets, adopting more efficient agricultural practices, or by using current cropland areas more intensively. This choice involves trade-offs. For instance, expanding cropland into non-agricultural ecosystems may reduce other ecosystem services such as biodiversity, and release greenhouse gases. Therefore, intensifying the use of current cropland areas may be a preferred option. In fact, current studies are able to identify regions where there is a capacity to intensify agricultural production (Zabel et al. 2014). Measures aimed at closing the gap between production possibilities and current production, however, are not sufficiently addressed.

From a bio-physical perspective, this paper analyses potentially suitable areas for agricultural production under a changing climate. The study is not only done for current agricultural area, but the authors also compute the suitability of densely forested as well as protected areas in order to investigate their potentials for agriculture. The impact of climate change under SRES A1B conditions, as simulated by the global climate model ECHAM5, on agricultural suitability is shown by comparing the time-period of 2071–2100 to 1981–2010.

The results show that climate change will expand suitable cropland by additionally 5.6 million km2, particularly in the Northern high latitudes (mainly in Canada, China and Russia). Most sensitive regions with decreasing suitability are found in the South, mainly in tropical regions, where also the suitability for multiple cropping decreases.