“Is there a perennial future for agriculture? The potential and challenges for shifting from annual monocultures to perennial polycultures”
Land degradation was the global environmental problem of the 1970s and 1980s. The United Nations convened its first focused environmental summit in 1977, The UN Conference on Desertification (UNCOD). During the last 2-3 decades, however, its political clout has dwindled while degradation may very well have accelerated. Climate change, which has replaced land degradation as an overriding global environmental issue, is projected to influence several processes of land degradation, both directly and indirectly. For example, direct impacts are expected from the strengthening of the hydrological cycle and shifting vegetation patterns, and indirect impacts are expected from increased pressure on agricultural lands due to productivity decline. Overall the outlook is rather bleak.
But human ingenuity can help us finding new and improved practices of managing land. A root cause of land degradation in conventional agriculture is the dominance of annual plants cultivated in monocultures. Annual crops imply that agroecosystems are uprooted and restarted annually resulting in soil erosion. In contrast, perennial polycultures informed by natural ecosystems, promise more sustainable agroecosystems with the potential to also revitalize the economic foundation of farming and hence rural societies.
In the seminar I will present preliminary findings from my involvement in the IPCC Special Report on Climate Change and Land (SRCCL), and research collaboration on perennial polycultures with the Land Institute, Salina, KS, as well as the new Pufendorf Theme “Domestication”.