Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Agricultural revolution in Africa could increase global carbon emissions

09.09.2014

Productivity-boosting agricultural innovations in Africa could lead to an increase in global deforestation rates and carbon emissions, a Purdue University study finds.

Historically, improvements in agricultural technology have conserved land and decreased carbon emissions at the global level: Gaining better yields in one area lessens the need to clear other areas for crops, sidestepping a land conversion process that can significantly raise the amount of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere.


Thomas Hertel

Agricultural advances in Africa, however, could have the reverse effect, increasing globally the amount of undeveloped land converted to cropland and raising greenhouse gas emissions, said Thomas Hertel, a distinguished professor of agricultural economics.

"Increasing productivity in Africa - a carbon-rich region with low agricultural yields - could have negative effects on the environment, especially if agricultural markets are highly integrated," he said. "This study highlights the importance of understanding the interplay between globalization and the environmental impacts of agricultural technology. They are deeply intertwined."

Debate surrounds the effects of agricultural innovation on the environment, Hertel noted. Some researchers suggest that increasing the profitability of farming will amplify its negative environmental effects, raising greenhouse gas emissions and accelerating tropical deforestation.

Others argue that intensifying agricultural production is better for the environment overall because more land can be spared for nature if the same amount of crops can be produced using less land.

"We set out to determine who was right," Hertel said. "We discovered that both hypotheses can be valid - it depends on the local circumstances."

Hertel and fellow researchers Navin Ramankutty and Uris Baldos developed a novel economic framework to analyze the effects of regional improvements in agricultural technology on global rates of land use and carbon emissions. Their analysis showed that historical "green revolutions" in regions such as Latin America and Asia - in which better varieties of cereal grains produced dramatic gains in harvests - helped spare land and diminish carbon emissions compared with an alternative scenario without crop innovations.

The global effects of a green revolution in Africa, however, are less certain, Hertel said.

"If the future global economy remains as fragmented as it has been historically - a world of very distinct agricultural markets - then a green revolution in Africa will lower global carbon emissions," he said. "But if markets become more integrated, faster agricultural innovation in Africa could raise global carbon emissions in the coming decades."

In an integrated world markets scenario, the researchers' analysis showed that ramping up agricultural productivity in Africa over the years 2025-2050 could increase global cropland expansion by 1.8 million hectares (4.4 million acres) and global carbon emissions by 267 million metric tons.

The sharp differences between the global impacts of a prospective African green revolution and those of previous green revolutions can be traced to several factors, Hertel said.

In an African green revolution, the relatively lower yields of African croplands would require more area to be converted to agriculture to make up for the displaced crop production in the rest of the world. The area converted would likely be carbon intensive and have a low emissions efficiency – that is, crop yields would be low relative to the carbon emissions released by converting the land to crops.

But the potential negative effects of an African green revolution will diminish over time, Hertel said. If sustained over several decades, agricultural innovation in Africa would eventually conserve land and decrease carbon emissions, especially if yields improved quickly. The most carbon-rich land, however, should be immediately protected from conversion to cropland, he said.

"We need to prevent regions in Africa that are rich in carbon and biodiversity from being cleared for agriculture to avoid increasing emissions," he said. "Boosting yields brings many benefits, but increasing global food supplies while minimizing the environmental footprint of agriculture remains a major challenge."

The paper was published Monday (Sept. 8) in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science

Writer:  Natalie van Hoose, 765-496-2050, nvanhoos@purdue.edu  

Source: Thomas Hertel, 765-494-4199, hertel@purdue.edu 

ABSTRACT

Global Market Integration Increases Likelihood that a Future African Green Revolution Could Increase Crop Land Use and CO2 emissions

Thomas W. Hertel 1; Navin Ramankutty 2; Uris Lantz C. Baldos 1

1 Department of Agricultural Economics, Purdue University, West Lafayete, Indiana, 47907, USA

2 Department of Geography, McGill University, Montreal, Quebec, H3A 0B9, Canada

E-mail: hertel@purdue.edu 

There has been a resurgence of interest in the impacts of agricultural productivity on land use and the environment. At the center of this debate is the assertion that agricultural innovation is land sparing. However, numerous case studies and global empirical studies have found little evidence of higher yields being accompanied by reduced area. We find that these studies overlook two crucial factors: estimation of a true counterfactual scenario and a tendency to adopt a regional, rather than a global, perspective. This paper introduces a general framework for analyzing the impacts of regional and global innovation on long-run crop output, prices, land rents, land use, and associated carbon dioxide emissions. In so doing, it facilitates a reconciliation of the apparently conflicting views of the impacts of agricultural productivity growth on global land use and environmental quality. Our historical analysis demonstrates that the Green Revolution in Asia, Latin America, and the Middle East was unambiguously land and emissions sparing, compared to a counterfactual world without these innovations. In contrast, we find that the environmental impacts of a prospective African Green Revolution are potentially ambiguous. We trace these divergent outcomes to relative differences between the innovating region and the rest of the world in yields, emissions efficiencies, cropland supply response, and intensification potential. Globalization of agriculture raises the potential for adverse environmental consequences. However, if sustained for several decades, an African Green Revolution will eventually become land sparing.  

Ag Communications: (765) 494-2722;
Keith Robinson, robins89@purdue.edu
Agriculture News Page

Natalie van Hoose | Eurek Alert!
Further information:
http://www.purdue.edu/newsroom/releases/2014/Q3/agricultural-revolution-in-africa-could-increase-global-carbon-emissions.html

Further reports about: African Agricultural agriculture crop crops dioxide emissions productivity

More articles from Ecology, The Environment and Conservation:

nachricht 5000 tons of plastic released into the environment every year
12.07.2019 | Empa - Eidgenössische Materialprüfungs- und Forschungsanstalt

nachricht Climate impact of clouds made from airplane contrails may triple by 2050
27.06.2019 | European Geosciences Union

All articles from Ecology, The Environment and Conservation >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Megakaryocytes act as „bouncers“ restraining cell migration in the bone marrow

Scientists at the University Würzburg and University Hospital of Würzburg found that megakaryocytes act as “bouncers” and thus modulate bone marrow niche properties and cell migration dynamics. The study was published in July in the Journal “Haematologica”.

Hematopoiesis is the process of forming blood cells, which occurs predominantly in the bone marrow. The bone marrow produces all types of blood cells: red...

Im Focus: Artificial neural network resolves puzzles from condensed matter physics: Which is the perfect quantum theory?

For some phenomena in quantum many-body physics several competing theories exist. But which of them describes a quantum phenomenon best? A team of researchers from the Technical University of Munich (TUM) and Harvard University in the United States has now successfully deployed artificial neural networks for image analysis of quantum systems.

Is that a dog or a cat? Such a classification is a prime example of machine learning: artificial neural networks can be trained to analyze images by looking...

Im Focus: Extremely hard yet metallically conductive: Bayreuth researchers develop novel material with high-tech prospects

An international research group led by scientists from the University of Bayreuth has produced a previously unknown material: Rhenium nitride pernitride. Thanks to combining properties that were previously considered incompatible, it looks set to become highly attractive for technological applications. Indeed, it is a super-hard metallic conductor that can withstand extremely high pressures like a diamond. A process now developed in Bayreuth opens up the possibility of producing rhenium nitride pernitride and other technologically interesting materials in sufficiently large quantity for their properties characterisation. The new findings are presented in "Nature Communications".

The possibility of finding a compound that was metallically conductive, super-hard, and ultra-incompressible was long considered unlikely in science. It was...

Im Focus: Modelling leads to the optimum size for platinum fuel cell catalysts: Activity of fuel cell catalysts doubled

An interdisciplinary research team at the Technical University of Munich (TUM) has built platinum nanoparticles for catalysis in fuel cells: The new size-optimized catalysts are twice as good as the best process commercially available today.

Fuel cells may well replace batteries as the power source for electric cars. They consume hydrogen, a gas which could be produced for example using surplus...

Im Focus: The secret of mushroom colors

Mushrooms: Darker fruiting bodies in cold climates

The fly agaric with its red hat is perhaps the most evocative of the diverse and variously colored mushroom species. Hitherto, the purpose of these colors was...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

2nd International Conference on UV LED Technologies & Applications – ICULTA 2020 | Call for Abstracts

24.06.2019 | Event News

SEMANTiCS 2019 brings together industry leaders and data scientists in Karlsruhe

29.04.2019 | Event News

Revered mathematicians and computer scientists converge with 200 young researchers in Heidelberg!

17.04.2019 | Event News

 
Latest News

Tracking down climate change with radar eyes

17.07.2019 | Earth Sciences

Researchers build transistor-like gate for quantum information processing -- with qudits

17.07.2019 | Information Technology

A new material for the battery of the future, made in UCLouvain

17.07.2019 | Materials Sciences

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>