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Global Assessment of Agricultural Productivity Losses from Soil Compaction and Water Erosion

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posted on 31.08.2021, 19:36 by Thomas Sonderegger, Stephan Pfister
To guide us toward a sustainable future, the impacts of human activities on natural resources need to be understood and quantified. In this study on global agriculture, we use a Life Cycle Assessment framework to estimate potential long-term soil productivity losses caused by soil compaction and water erosion due to agricultural crop production. We combine several data sets to model spatially resolved Life Cycle Inventory information at the global level and multiply results with characterization factors from a previous publication. The global picture shows a compaction-stressed “Global North” and an erosion-stressed “Global South”, with some countries and regions in between, for example, China and parts of South America. Results show that both compaction and water erosion impacts matter at the global level and that overall potential long-term productivity losses of 10–20% can be expected, with high relative impacts on low input production systems. These losses might limit long-term agricultural productivity and lead to additional land use change. Our work adds to and extends the discussion of global assessments of soil degradation. Furthermore, we prove the suggested framework to be applicable and useful for Life Cycle Assessments and other studies and provide results that can be used in such global assessments.