Study: Sustainable Intesification in the Agricultural/Forest Landscapes

Browsing through Google Reader, I came across a really interesting article title in ESA’s publication “Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment”: How can climate policy benefit from comprehensive land-use approaches? (The full PDF requires a subscription. Emailing the authors is probably the best way to get a copy if you’re really interested).

The authors point out how efforts to mitigate climate change usually focus on forestry practices. Agriculture is usually left out of the equation creating a situation where it’s easy to imagine the need for extra money from forest production (and related subsidies) competing against the need for food. The authors suggest an alternative to this conflict: sustainable intensification.

By sustainable intensification, the authors suggest deliberately arrange patches of agriculture and forest. Keeping the patches small is important because “erosion by wind and/or water increases exponentially with increasing cropland parcel size.”

Diagram suggesting the theoretical layout of a sustainably intensified productive landscape. (Knoke et al., Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment 2012; doi:10.1890/110203

If you’ve seen rivers run red in the Southeastern Piedmont, you have some idea how much erosion bare soil (often from exurban development) can cause. Increasing the size of those bare patches isn’t a pretty picture in my mind, but it’s not an uncommon one in the tropics. Helping keep the rivers a little clearer means more soil stays on the farm and more fish to catch in the rivers and oceans. Hopefully, this win-win strategy only needs a small nudge to gain a foothold in the tropics. Happily though, a lot of small farms near my home in the Carolina Piedmont already look a lot like this.