Thursday, December 19, 2013

Abandoned Agriculture

The Soviet Union’s collapse in 1991 heralded the end of many unprofitable communist industries, along with unprecedented changes in land use. As the free-market economy took hold, large swathes of Soviet cropland were abandoned by farmers and reclaimed by nature.

A study suggested that the area of cropland abandoned since 1990 in western Russia, Belarus and Ukraine has been severely underestimated. According to figures based on regional sowing statistics, more than one-quarter of former agricultural land in the region is idle. This equates to about 31 million hectares — or an area the size of Poland — and is more than three times the area estimated in 2009 by the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization mainly on the basis of land-use observations from space.

Many sites once used to produce feed could today support wheat varieties and other cereals.  If fully replanted, he estimates the region’s idle land could yield some 90 million tonnes of grain per year — about 35 million tonnes more than Russia’s wheat production in 2013.  Ultimately it would help to satisfy the rising global demand for cereals for food and animal feed — projected to reach 3 billion tonnes by 2050.

But there is a catch in recultivating idle farmland, in that carbon locked in soils and plants on former agricultural land might be released into the atmosphere. Using vegetation modelling, that 470 million tonnes of carbon — which would equate to about one-third of US CO2 emissions in 2012 if released — have been sequestered between 1990 and 2009 in abandoned cropland in western Russia and Ukraine.  10 million hectares could be recultivated without excess stress on water resources and soils. The rest,”might better stay untouched.

From here

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