Complex relations between agricultural intensification and land use change: Assessing induced intensification, land sparing and rebound effect

This blog post builds on Rodriguez García et al. (2020) https://doi.org/10.1088/1748-9326/ab8b14

Agricultural intensification can allow sparing land for nature, but it can also drive further expansion of cropland, i.e. a rebound effect. Conversely, constraints on cropland expansion may induce
intensification.

We used an innovative cointegration approach to assess long and short-run mutual causation relationships between changes in cropland area and intensity, using a global cross-country panel dataset over 1961 to 2016.

We showed that in the short run, intensification resulted in a rebound effect for commodities with high
price-elasticity of demand, including rubber, flex crops (sugarcane, oil palm and soybean), and
tropical fruits, and for crops together in middle-income countries, which include many key agricultural producers strongly competitive in global agricultural commodity markets. These rebound effects remained over the long run for key commodities such as flex crops and rubber. Furthermore, intensification in low-income countries, driven by increases in total factor productivity, was associated with a stronger rebound effect than yields increases.

In contrast, intensification of staple cereals such as wheat and rice resulted in significant land sparing, and over the long run we found support for the induced intensification thesis for low-income countries.

Our study design, building on cointegration, error-correction models and tests for long-run causality direction could be used for addressing other complex long- and short-run causal dynamics in land and social-ecological systems.

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