The expansion of agricultural land and the increasing production of food on existing agricultural land are among the most profound of human alterations of the global environment. Global production of cereal crops has doubled since 1960 and modern agriculture now provides food for more than 6 billion people, a number once thought impossible, because of increases in yield achieved through increased applications of water, fertilizer, pesticides and new crop strains. Much of the future potential to increase crop yields is in tropical and subtropical Africa and Asia where highly seasonal rainfall makes any agriculture vulnerable to future climate change. As agriculture expands and intensifies, it can threaten local and global ecosystems services that include provision of water quality and quantity and carbon storage. At the same time, intensification of agriculture on already-cleared land has the potential to keep wild land out of agricultural production, restore extensively-used agricultural land improve objective measures of soil quality on intensive farmland, though reviews also indicate that increasing yields can lead to further deforestation unless appropriate policies are in place. Structuring agricultural production to meet human demands for food while maintaining ecosystem functions is one of humanity’s great challenges. Meeting this challenge will require better understanding of the relationships among increased agricultural production that result from investments designed to produce higher crop yields, soil quality, greenhouse gas emissions and other indicators of ecosystem function and sustainability.
Our Millennium Village PIRE project will focus on how the current intensification of agriculture through targeted interventions designed to increase crop yields in African Millennium Villages influences land-use patterns and landowner land-use decisions and whether it leads to enhancement or degradation of soils and other ecosystem services and human wellbeing at both local and regional scales.