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Special Issue "Sustainable Agriculture: The State of the Great Debates"

A special issue of Sustainability (ISSN 2071-1050). This special issue belongs to the section "Sustainable Agriculture, Food and Wildlife".

Deadline for manuscript submissions: closed (30 April 2018)

Special Issue Editor

Guest Editor
Prof. Dr. Alon Tal

Tel Aviv University, P.O. Box 39040, Tel Aviv 6997801, Israel
Website | E-Mail
Phone: 03-6409524
Interests: sustainability; demography; water

Special Issue Information

Dear Colleagues,

This Special Issue focuses on central controversies over what constitutes sustainable agriculture, given recent research in the field. The journal will take on a “point–counterpoint” format with both sides on the issues presented fairly, by a leading expert in the field, based on available evidence. Readers can receive a dispassionate, up-to-date presentation of where the most recent research points to and supports in these classic debates.

The following are the topics included in this Special Issue:

(1) Prospects for Global Food Security: Neo-Malthusians take on Promethean optimists on the question: Can we expect productivity to continue to keep ahead of the world’s population—which is expected to grow to 11.2 billion people by the end of the century?

(2) The Sustainability of Arid Agriculture: With the advent of better fertigation technologies and salt/drought resistant crop varieties, many experts today harbor far more ambitious visions about making the deserts bloom. But there is also evidence that the expansion of desert agriculture is ultimately unsustainable.

(3) Land Sharing versus Land Sparing: Considerable disagreement has arisen in recent years as to whether the best strategy for biodiversity involved have conservation strategies integrated into farm operations which would be partners in biodiversity protection efforts (land sharing)—or whether maximizing intensity of farming to ensure minimum amount of land compromised by farm operations (land sparing).

(4) The Virtues of Organic Agriculture Questioned: Organic produce enjoys higher market prices and environmental pedigree than conventionally fruits and vegetables. Are pesticides truly a public health menace that produce super bugs and are responsible for a global cancer epidemic—or is pesticide risk exaggerated with organic agriculture an obstacle to providing food for a growing population?

(5) Agricultural GMOs—What we know and where scientists disagree: Since the 1980s when scientists successfully inserted genes into to create glyphosate-tolerant soybeans, the world has empirical experience with GMOs. Have early environmental concerns been validated?

(6) DesalinationA critical resource for future irrigation or Economically and environmentally unfeasible pipe dream: As water scarce regions become increasingly dependent on desalination to provide them with drinking water—will there be a continued drop in prices that will make desalinated water a critical source of irrigation water for the world’s food production?  

(7) Jevons paradox and drip irrigation—The Jevons paradox involves situations where because of the increase in efficiency brought about by technological progress, the rate of consumption of resources actually rises because of increasing demand. It has been argued that efficient drip and other micro irrigation systems will actually increase water consumption.

Prof. Dr. Alon Tal
Guest Editor

Manuscript Submission Information

Manuscripts should be submitted online at www.mdpi.com by registering and logging in to this website. Once you are registered, click here to go to the submission form. Manuscripts can be submitted until the deadline. All papers will be peer-reviewed. Accepted papers will be published continuously in the journal (as soon as accepted) and will be listed together on the special issue website. Research articles, review articles as well as short communications are invited. For planned papers, a title and short abstract (about 100 words) can be sent to the Editorial Office for announcement on this website.

Submitted manuscripts should not have been published previously, nor be under consideration for publication elsewhere (except conference proceedings papers). All manuscripts are thoroughly refereed through a single-blind peer-review process. A guide for authors and other relevant information for submission of manuscripts is available on the Instructions for Authors page. Sustainability is an international peer-reviewed open access monthly journal published by MDPI.

Please visit the Instructions for Authors page before submitting a manuscript. The Article Processing Charge (APC) for publication in this open access journal is 1400 CHF (Swiss Francs). Submitted papers should be well formatted and use good English. Authors may use MDPI's English editing service prior to publication or during author revisions.

Published Papers (10 papers)

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Research

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Open AccessArticle What Have We Learned from the Land Sparing-sharing Model?
Sustainability 2018, 10(6), 1760; https://doi.org/10.3390/su10061760
Received: 1 April 2018 / Revised: 24 May 2018 / Accepted: 25 May 2018 / Published: 28 May 2018
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Abstract
The land sparing-sharing model provides a powerful heuristic and analytical framework for understanding the potential of agricultural landscapes to support wild species. However, its conceptual and analytical strengths and limitations remain widely contested or misunderstood. Here, I review what inferences can and cannot
[...] Read more.
The land sparing-sharing model provides a powerful heuristic and analytical framework for understanding the potential of agricultural landscapes to support wild species. However, its conceptual and analytical strengths and limitations remain widely contested or misunderstood. Here, I review what inferences can and cannot be derived from the framework, and discuss eight specific points of contention and confusion. The land sparing-sharing framework is underpinned by an ethic that seeks to minimise harm to non-human species. It is used to quantify how good farmland is for different species, in relation to appropriate reference land uses, and at what opportunity cost. The results of empirical studies that have used the model indicate that most species will have larger populations if food is produced on as small an area as possible, while sparing as large an area of native vegetation as possible. The potential benefits of land sharing or intermediate strategies for wild species are more limited. I review disagreements about the scope of analysis (food production cf. food security), the value of high-yield farmland for wildlife, the (ir)relevance of the Borlaug hypothesis, scale and heterogeneity, fostering human connections to nature, the prospects for land sparing in heavily-modified landscapes, the role of land sparing in improving connectivity, and the political implications of the model. Interpreted alongside insights from social, political and economic studies, the model can help us to understand how decisions about land-use will affect the persistence of wild species populations into the future. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Sustainable Agriculture: The State of the Great Debates)
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Open AccessArticle Evaluating Gravity-Flow Irrigation with Lessons from Yuma, Arizona, USA
Sustainability 2018, 10(5), 1548; https://doi.org/10.3390/su10051548
Received: 12 March 2018 / Revised: 1 May 2018 / Accepted: 7 May 2018 / Published: 14 May 2018
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Abstract
Many consider gravity-flow irrigation inefficient and deride its use. Yet, there are cases where gravity-flow irrigation can play an important role in highly productive and profitable agriculture. This perspective article reviews the literature on the profitability and efficiency of gravity systems. It then
[...] Read more.
Many consider gravity-flow irrigation inefficient and deride its use. Yet, there are cases where gravity-flow irrigation can play an important role in highly productive and profitable agriculture. This perspective article reviews the literature on the profitability and efficiency of gravity systems. It then reviews the history of water management in Yuma, Arizona, which is one of the most productive agricultural areas in the United States. Through extensive changes in irrigation technologies, changes in production practices, and investments in irrigation infrastructure, Yuma agriculture dramatically shifted from perennial and summer-centric crop production to winter-centric, multi-crop systems that are focused on high-value vegetable crops. These innovations have led to improvement in various irrigation efficiency measures and overall water conservation. Return flows from the system, which were once characterized as an indicator of inefficiency, provide valuable environmental services to the Colorado River Delta ecosystem. Yuma’s history illustrates that innovative gravity-flow systems can be productive and water-conserving, and that a system-wide perspective is critical in evaluating irrigation systems. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Sustainable Agriculture: The State of the Great Debates)
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Open AccessArticle Beyond Biodiversity Conservation: Land Sharing Constitutes Sustainable Agriculture in European Cultural Landscapes
Sustainability 2018, 10(5), 1395; https://doi.org/10.3390/su10051395
Received: 7 February 2018 / Revised: 23 April 2018 / Accepted: 27 April 2018 / Published: 2 May 2018
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Abstract
While the academic land sharing–land sparing debate peaked in the recognition that neither strategy alone may offer the best solution to integrate commodity production with biodiversity conservation, the lack of integrating the local realities of people and their cultural landscapes beyond mere biodiversity
[...] Read more.
While the academic land sharing–land sparing debate peaked in the recognition that neither strategy alone may offer the best solution to integrate commodity production with biodiversity conservation, the lack of integrating the local realities of people and their cultural landscapes beyond mere biodiversity conservation is hampering the knowledge transfer from our scientific discourse to the policy agenda. Here, we focus on European cultural landscapes, which represent prime examples for the success but also the fragility of social-ecological agricultural systems that benefit from land sharing. In contrast, we challenge the effectiveness of land sparing for sustainable agriculture. Moreover, we question whether and how either sparing or sharing can actually be implemented on the ground. We conclude that creating and maintaining sharing systems nowadays is a normative choice that society can take. Based on this, we caution against the ongoing prioritization of optimizing the economic benefits perceived from such systems. We highlight the limitations of economic instruments to safeguard the multifunctionality of sharing landscapes. Taken together, we suggest that deliberations on the sparing–sharing discussion ought to be moved from a limited perspective on biodiversity towards a holistic consideration of landscapes as spaces that are shaped by and satisfy manifold aspects of human well-being, ranging from cultural to materialistic needs. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Sustainable Agriculture: The State of the Great Debates)
Open AccessFeature PaperArticle Making Conventional Agriculture Environmentally Friendly: Moving beyond the Glorification of Organic Agriculture and the Demonization of Conventional Agriculture
Sustainability 2018, 10(4), 1078; https://doi.org/10.3390/su10041078
Received: 13 February 2018 / Revised: 3 April 2018 / Accepted: 4 April 2018 / Published: 4 April 2018
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Abstract
The article reviews the most recent research surrounding the potential role of organic agriculture in providing food for the planet. It challenges the claims of organic agriculture’s environmental superiority compared to well-managed, conventional agriculture. The relative advantages of these contrasting approaches to farming
[...] Read more.
The article reviews the most recent research surrounding the potential role of organic agriculture in providing food for the planet. It challenges the claims of organic agriculture’s environmental superiority compared to well-managed, conventional agriculture. The relative advantages of these contrasting approaches to farming in areas such as aggregate land requirements, biodiversity/habitat loss, water quality, land degradation and climate change are considered. Legitimate concerns about conventional agriculture’s adverse environmental and health impacts need to be addressed and many harmful practices transformed. Nonetheless, careful, sustainably-run, conventional operations can avoid many of the pitfalls and hazards which are often associated with high-input agriculture. The higher yields provided by conventional agriculture offer a more sustainable strategy than a chemical-free agricultural system at the global level for meeting the needs of burgeoning populations and reducing agriculture’s aggregate environmental impact. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Sustainable Agriculture: The State of the Great Debates)
Open AccessArticle Leveraging Sustainable Irrigated Agriculture via Desalination: Evidence from a Macro-Data Case Study in Israel
Sustainability 2018, 10(4), 974; https://doi.org/10.3390/su10040974
Received: 15 February 2018 / Revised: 13 March 2018 / Accepted: 23 March 2018 / Published: 27 March 2018
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Abstract
Israel has been a global frontrunner in (a) irrigation water application efficiency; (b) utilization of non-conventional (recycled and brackish) water supplies containing salts for irrigation; and recently (c) large-scale seawater desalination to provide water. Irrigation with water high in salts in many dry
[...] Read more.
Israel has been a global frontrunner in (a) irrigation water application efficiency; (b) utilization of non-conventional (recycled and brackish) water supplies containing salts for irrigation; and recently (c) large-scale seawater desalination to provide water. Irrigation with water high in salts in many dry regions has been shown to be non-sustainable, mostly due to contamination of soils, subsoils, and groundwater resulting from the application and leaching of salts. We hypothesized that the move to desalination would reverse prior problematic trends of salinization and provide a path to sustainable irrigated agriculture in Israel and similar environments. To investigate effects of desalination in Israel on the status of salinity trends, we evaluated citrus leaf sodium, chloride, and magnesium in the years since the onset of large-scale national desalination in 2008 and examined fresh produce in the country for sodium and magnesium. We found remarkable reversal of previous trends until 2006, when salinity was found to rise consistently, in the recent data showing decreases of 20, 34, and 30% for Na, Cl, and Mg, respectively. A tendency for Israeli produce to be high in concentrations of salts compared to international standards was also reversed following large-scale desalination. Sodium in Israeli fresh produce is no longer much higher than that expected in equivalent sources in the USA while magnesium is lower in Israel fruits and vegetables compared to USDA standards. We present these results and trends to support the argument that desalination can allow and promote sustainable irrigated agriculture in the world’s dry areas. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Sustainable Agriculture: The State of the Great Debates)
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Review

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Open AccessReview A Sustainable Agricultural Future Relies on the Transition to Organic Agroecological Pest Management
Sustainability 2018, 10(6), 2023; https://doi.org/10.3390/su10062023
Received: 21 April 2018 / Revised: 10 June 2018 / Accepted: 11 June 2018 / Published: 15 June 2018
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Abstract
The need to improve agricultural sustainability to secure yields, minimize environmental impacts and buffer environmental change is widely recognized. Investment in conventional agriculture has supported its present yield advantage. However, organic agriculture with agroecological management has nascent capacity for sustainable production and for
[...] Read more.
The need to improve agricultural sustainability to secure yields, minimize environmental impacts and buffer environmental change is widely recognized. Investment in conventional agriculture has supported its present yield advantage. However, organic agriculture with agroecological management has nascent capacity for sustainable production and for increasing yields in the future. Conventional systems have leveraged reductionist approaches to address pests, primarily through pesticides that seek to eliminate biological factors that reduce yield, but come at a cost to human and ecosystem health, and leave production systems vulnerable to the development of pest resistance to these chemicals or traits. Alternatives are needed, and are found in organic production approaches. Although both organic and agroecology approaches encompass more than pest management, this aspect is a pivotal element of our agricultural future. Through increased investment and application of emerging analytical approaches to improve plant breeding for and management of these systems, yields and resilience will surpass approaches that address components alone. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Sustainable Agriculture: The State of the Great Debates)
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Open AccessReview The Sustainability of Agricultural Development in China: The Agriculture–Environment Nexus
Sustainability 2018, 10(6), 1776; https://doi.org/10.3390/su10061776
Received: 30 March 2018 / Revised: 14 May 2018 / Accepted: 21 May 2018 / Published: 29 May 2018
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Abstract
The article aims to provide an overview of China’s agricultural development and its
sustainability by focusing on the agriculture–environmental nexus. We first review literature
regarding trends in agricultural development and driving forces. China has made impressive
progress at providing food for 22% of
[...] Read more.
The article aims to provide an overview of China’s agricultural development and its
sustainability by focusing on the agriculture–environmental nexus. We first review literature
regarding trends in agricultural development and driving forces. China has made impressive
progress at providing food for 22% of the world’s population. At the same time, severe environmental
impacts have been incurred which not only affect future food security but also have impacts on other
socio-economic aspects. The agricultural policies that have been put into practice have direct or
indirect impacts on such environmental outcomes. We review the impacts of agricultural policies
as well as conservation policies, their effectiveness, some unintended consequences and conflicts.
The article concludes that technology and institutional innovation in China should emphasize more
integrated sustainable development considering the agriculture–environment nexus, instead of
setting incoherent and sometimes incompatible policy goals for each separate side. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Sustainable Agriculture: The State of the Great Debates)
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Open AccessReview Jevons’ Paradox and Efficient Irrigation Technology
Sustainability 2018, 10(5), 1590; https://doi.org/10.3390/su10051590
Received: 30 April 2018 / Revised: 12 May 2018 / Accepted: 13 May 2018 / Published: 16 May 2018
Cited by 1 | PDF Full-text (240 KB) | HTML Full-text | XML Full-text
Abstract
Water is one of our world’s most essential natural resources, but it is also a resource that is becoming increasingly scarce. The agricultural use of groundwater is particularly important to manage sustainably and well. However, popular and well-intentioned water conservation and management policies,
[...] Read more.
Water is one of our world’s most essential natural resources, but it is also a resource that is becoming increasingly scarce. The agricultural use of groundwater is particularly important to manage sustainably and well. However, popular and well-intentioned water conservation and management policies, including those that encourage the adoption of more efficient irrigation technology, may have unintended and possibly perverse consequences if policy-makers do not account for water users’ behavioral responses to their policies. In particular, a Jevons’ Paradox may arise, whereby a technology that enhances the efficiency of using a natural resource does not necessarily lead to less consumption of that resource. In this paper, we discuss efficient irrigation technology, Jevons’ Paradox, and the possible perverse consequences of incentive-based programs for agricultural groundwater conservation. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Sustainable Agriculture: The State of the Great Debates)
Open AccessReview Agricultural GMOs—What We Know and Where Scientists Disagree
Sustainability 2018, 10(5), 1514; https://doi.org/10.3390/su10051514
Received: 7 March 2018 / Revised: 21 April 2018 / Accepted: 4 May 2018 / Published: 10 May 2018
Cited by 1 | PDF Full-text (278 KB) | HTML Full-text | XML Full-text
Abstract
Population growth, climate change, and increasing human impact on land and aquatic systems all pose significant challenges for current agricultural practices. Genetic engineering is a tool to speed up breeding for new varieties, which can help farmers and agricultural systems adapt to rapidly
[...] Read more.
Population growth, climate change, and increasing human impact on land and aquatic systems all pose significant challenges for current agricultural practices. Genetic engineering is a tool to speed up breeding for new varieties, which can help farmers and agricultural systems adapt to rapidly changing physical growing conditions, technology, and global markets. We review the current scientific literature and present the potential of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) from the perspectives of various stakeholders. GMOs increase yields, lower costs, and reduce the land and environmental footprint of agriculture. The benefits of this technology are shared among innovators, farmers, and consumers. Developing countries and poor farmers gain substantially from GMOs. Agricultural biotechnology is diverse, with many applications having different potential impacts. Its regulation needs to balance benefits and risks for each application. Excessive precaution prevents significant benefits. Increasing access to the technology and avoidance of excessive regulation will allow it to reach its potential. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Sustainable Agriculture: The State of the Great Debates)

Other

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Open AccessFeature PaperOpinion Pessimism on the Food Front
Sustainability 2018, 10(4), 1120; https://doi.org/10.3390/su10041120
Received: 12 March 2018 / Revised: 12 March 2018 / Accepted: 5 April 2018 / Published: 9 April 2018
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Abstract
Virtually all trends, biophysical and socioeconomic, suggest that levels of hunger, already high, will only increase as the human population grows and its life-support systems are degraded. Steps that might ameliorate the situation are, unhappily, nowhere in sight. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Sustainable Agriculture: The State of the Great Debates)
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