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  1. Abstract The ongoing agrarian transition from smallholder farming to large-scale commercial agriculture promoted by transnational large-scale land acquisitions (LSLAs) often aims to increase crop yields through the expansion of irrigation. LSLAs are playing an increasingly prominent role in this transition. Yet it remains unknown whether foreign LSLAs by agribusinesses target areas based on specific hydrological conditions and whether these investments compete with the water needs of existing local users. Here we combine process-based crop and hydrological modelling, agricultural statistics, and georeferenced information on individual transnational LSLAs to evaluate emergence of water scarcity associated with LSLAs. While conditions of blue water scarcity already existed prior to land acquisitions, these deals substantially exacerbate blue water scarcity through both the adoption of water-intensive crops and the expansion of irrigated cultivation. These effects lead to new rival water uses in 105 of the 160 studied LSLAs (67% of the acquired land). Combined with our findings that investors target land with preferential access to surface and groundwater resources to support irrigation, this suggests that LSLAs often appropriate water resources to the detriment of local users.
    Free, publicly-accessible full text available December 1, 2023
  2. Abstract

    Food security and the agricultural economy are both dependent on the temporal stability of crop yields. To this end, increasing crop diversity has been suggested as a means to stabilize agricultural yields amidst an ongoing decrease in cropping system diversity across the world. Although diversity confers stability in many natural ecosystems, in agricultural systems the relationship between crop diversity and yield stability is not yet well resolved across spatial scales. Here, we leveraged crop area, production, and price data from 1981 to 2020 to assess the relationship between crop diversity and the stability of both economic and caloric yields at the state level within the USA. We found that, after controlling for climatic instability and differences in irrigated area, crop diversity was positively associated with economic yield stability but negatively associated with caloric yield stability. Further, we found that crops with a propensity for increasing economic yield stability but reducing caloric yield stability were often found in the most diverse states. We propose that price responses to changes in production for high-value crops underly the positive relationship between diversity and economic yield stability. In contrast, spatial concentration of calorie-dense crops in low-diversity states contributes to the negative relationship betweenmore »diversity and caloric yield stability. Our results suggest that the relationship between crop diversity and yield stability is not universal, but instead dependent on the spatial scale in question and the stability metric of interest.

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  3. Abstract Global use of reactive nitrogen (N) has increased over the past century to meet growing food and biofuel demand, while contributing to substantial environmental impacts. Addressing continued N management challenges requires anticipating pathways of future N use. Several studies in the scientific literature have projected future N inputs for crop production under a business-as-usual scenario. However, it remains unclear how using yield response functions to characterize a given level of technology and management practices (TMP) will alter the projections when using a consistent dataset. In this study, to project N inputs to 2050, we developed and tested three approaches, namely ‘Same nitrogen use efficiency (NUE)’, ‘Same TMP’, and ‘Improving TMP’. We found the approach that considers diminishing returns in yield response functions (‘Same TMP’) resulted in 268 Tg N yr −1 of N inputs, which was 61 and 48 Tg N yr −1 higher than when keeping NUE at the current level with and without considering changes in crop mix, respectively. If TMP continue to evolve at the pace of past five decades, projected N inputs reduce to 204 Tg N yr −1 , a value that is still 59 Tg N yr −1 higher than the inputs inmore »the baseline year 2006. Overall, our results suggest that assuming a constant NUE may be too optimistic in projecting N inputs, and the full range of projection assumptions need to be carefully explored when investigating future N budgets.« less
    Free, publicly-accessible full text available May 1, 2023
  4. Abstract

    The ongoing agrarian transition from small-holder farming to large-scale commercial agriculture is reshaping systems of production and human well-being in many regions. A fundamental part of this global transition is manifested in large-scale land acquisitions (LSLAs) by agribusinesses. Its energy implications, however, remain poorly understood. Here, we assess the multi-dimensional changes in fossil-fuel-based energy demand resulting from this agrarian transition. We focus on LSLAs by comparing two scenarios of low-input and high-input agricultural practices, exemplifying systems of production in place before and after the agrarian transition. A shift to high-input crop production requires industrial fertilizer application, mechanization of farming practices and irrigation, which increases by ~5 times fossil-fuel-based energy consumption compared to low-input agriculture. Given the high energy and carbon footprints of LSLAs and concerns over local energy access, our analysis highlights the need for an approach that prioritizes local resource access and incorporates energy-intensity analyses in land use governance.

  5. Foreign investors have acquired approximately 90 million hectares of land for agriculture over the past two decades. The effects of these investments on local food security remain unknown. While additional cropland and intensified agriculture could potentially increase crop production, preferential targeting of prime agricultural land and transitions toward export-bound crops might affect local access to nutritious foods. We test these hypotheses in a global systematic analysis of the food security implications of existing land concessions. We combine agricultural, remote sensing, and household survey data (available in 11 sub-Saharan African countries) with georeferenced information on 160 land acquisitions in 39 countries. We find that the intended changes in cultivated crop types generally imply transitions toward energy-rich, but nutrient-poor, crops that are predominantly destined for export markets. Specific impacts on food production and access vary substantially across regions. Deals likely have little effect on food security in eastern Europe and Latin America, where they predominantly occur within agricultural areas with current export-oriented crops, and where agriculture would have both expanded and intensified regardless of the land deals. This contrasts with Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, where deals are associated with both an expansion and intensification (in Asia) of crop production. Deals in thesemore »regions also shift production away from local staples and coincide with a gradually decreasing dietary diversity among the surveyed households in sub-Saharan Africa. Together, these findings point to a paradox, where land deals can simultaneously increase crop production and threaten local food security.

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