Die Bodenkultur - Journal for Land Management, Food and Environment

M. Gerzabek:

Global soil use in biomass production:
opportunities and challenges of ecological and sustainable
intensification in agriculture


The world’s increasing population and the need to produce food, feed, fibre and fuel (energy) from agricultural crops puts pressures on global soil resources. Beyond production, soils have manifold environmental functions that must be preserved despite increasing production levels. Today, substantial parts of the world’s soil resources are degraded. Urbanization and increased sealing of fertile soils, human-induced erosion and soil compaction, the input of contaminants, increasing nitrogen depositions, a possible scarcity of fertilizer P, and soil organic matter loss due to changing land use and soil management are amongst the severe present and future threats to soil resources. Research shows that agricultural production could be increased worldwide by several approaches such as filling the gap between potential yields and actual yields by improved agricultural techniques, increased agricultural land and reduced post-harvest losses. The highest potentials are seen in temperate rather than in tropical areas with their less resilient soils. Climate change will have a tremendous impact on the availability of agriculturally productive areas and will induce significant shifts between regions. Intensification of agricultural systems should aim at low-input high-yield systems best adapted to the local needs and framework conditions. This requires implementing all possible measures including aspects of organic farming, precision agriculture, reduced tillage, high-efficiency irrigation systems, agro-forestry systems, breeding, mechanization and improved post-harvest storage and handling technologies. The cascade use of biomass for food and feed, industrial raw material, energy production and organic fertilizer is clearly a valuable concept in this context.

Key words: Biomass production, ecological/sustainable intensification, food security, soil degradation, soil resources.