The neglected role of abandoned cropland in supporting both food security and climate change mitigation

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Despite the looming land scarcity for agriculture, cropland abandonment is widespread globally. Abandoned cropland can be reused to support food security and climate change mitigation. Here, we investigate the potentials and trade-offs of using global abandoned cropland for recultivation and restoring forests by natural regrowth, with spatially-explicit modelling and scenario analysis. We identify 101 Mha of abandoned cropland between 1992 and 2020, with a capability of concurrently delivering 29 to 363 Peta-calories yr-1 of food production potential and 290 to 1,066 MtCO2 yr-1 of net climate change mitigation potential, depending on land-use suitability and land allocation strategies. We also show that applying spatial prioritization is key to maximizing the achievable potentials of abandoned cropland and demonstrate other possible approaches to further increase these potentials. Our findings offer timely insights into the potentials of abandoned cropland and can inform sustainable land management to buttress food security and climate goals.

Original languageEnglish
Article number6083
JournalNature Communications
Number of pages13
Publication statusPublished - 2023

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