Germany: In order to assess the global impacts of land use on the environment and help provide appropriate countermeasures, a group of researchers under the leadership of the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research (UFZ) have created a new world map of land use systems. Based on various indicators of land-use intensity, climate, environmental and socio-economic conditions, they identified twelve global patterns called land system archetypes.
These include barren lands in the developing world, pastoral systems or extensive cropping systems. Germany, for instance, together with most of the Western Europe, Eastern USA and Western Australia represents the ‘intensive cropping system’ that covers about 5% of the terrestrial earth surface. This system is characterised by high density of cropland, high inputs of nitrogen fertilisers, temperate climate, high crop yields, large capital investments in the agricultural sector, low proportion of GDP originating from agriculture and good access to market places.
What is novel about this research is the fact that the scientists analysed significantly more data and indicators than what is common in similar studies. In contrast to traditional models of land use, over 30 factors with more than one million data points were processed. “For example, we didn’t know before which regions had an unfulfilled potential for agricultural intensification given the environmental and socio-economic conditions, or in which regions the maximum agricultural yields were already achieved”, says Tomáš Václavík, a scientist and leading author from UFZ. The information that was usually hidden behind the complexity of data is now revealed. “If we had analysed only the environmental indicators, we could not identify where viable opportunities for yield improvements exist”.