Sustainable Land Management – A Challenge for Everybody

(BMBF-Research Programme „Sustainable Land Management”)

Land use and the consumption of natural resources are drawing increasing public attention. There are good reasons for this: the climate is changing, cities are growing, geographic distribution and the age structure of the population is changing, and the higher prices for agricultural products are increasing the pressure to make more intensive use of land area. As a result, land is in short supply and conflicts are bound to occur.

There is regional and global competition over productive arable land between the production of food and the cultivation of renewable energy feedstocks. The very real expression of this dilemma is the current political debate about “food versus fuel”. Furthermore, the protection of the environment and climate must also be taken into consideration. Should priority be given to the expansion of settlement areas or to the preservation of valuable arable land? Is it better to protect biodiversity or to grow biomass on plantations? These are regional conflicts which are arising more and more frequently.

Solving these problems and finding a sustainable way to use available land areas calls for new ideas. The approaches to these issues taken in agriculture, municipal and urban planning, forestry, and in nature conservation and water management will have to be more closely interlinked in future. The functions and services that vital ecosystems provide for humans, biodiversity and regional value creation can be combined successfully. Energy and material flows, for example the water and nutrient cycles, are best and most wisely managed in regional urban-rural collaborations. 

It is therefore the task of government, industry, society and science to draw up proposals which can be implemented at regional level. This will require new solutions from research – and a new kind of research. This is why the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) launched the “Sustainable Land Management” funding measure.

The research projects funded by the BMBF will develop systems solutions that are innovative and easy to implement. The focus is on regions which are at a particular disadvantage as a result of change. These changes include loss of soil fertility, deforestation and erosion, rising sea levels, but also the migration of young people away from rural regions and increasing urban sprawl. Researchers are working on solutions which act as a model and can be implemented in other regions. Examples could be the establishment of new value creation networks for biomass through the management of peatlands, the development of new ways to organize land management, or sustainable farming methods in rice cultivation.

Scientists from a number of different fields and practitioners in the regions are working together in interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary projects. In cooperation with players from associations, initiatives, government, businesses, and land owners they are developing application-oriented strategies and measures. The objective is to provide local people with solutions that can be implemented over the long term and with ideas that can also be realized in other regions.

The “Sustainable Land Management“ funding measure focuses on two key areas of interest.

The focus of research in Module A is on the interplay and interdependencies of land management, climate change and the services provided by ecosystems. Twelve projects are analyzing the complex correlations between land use, globalization, climate change, loss of biodiversity, population growth and urbanization. Researchers are developing solutions that prepare the project areas for change. The knowledge gained will be used to implement measures in these regions. The researchers work together with local partners to develop and trial proposals for the preservation of vital ecosystem services. The twelve projects are being carried out in Africa, Asia, South America and Europe.

Research activity in Module B concentrates on integrated urban-rural development. Its objectives are to strengthen value creation at the regional level and to optimize energy and material flows between cities and rural areas. The focus of the 13 projects is to develop and implement new, sustainable and practicable approaches for regions in Germany facing different challenges. This demands an understanding of which factors influence land use and how they relate to one another. Typical issues in this context are to examine the interaction between energy, environmental, agricultural and structural policy as well as that between settlement and transport development. Or: how do land owners influence land use?

The scope of the projects is very diverse. They are concerned with such issues as the adaptation of technical infrastructure systems to the change in demand, resource-efficient and low-emissions settlement development, decentralized renewable energy supply systems, and the integrated use of land and water resources.

These projects are backed by two scientific coordination projects. They are located at the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research (UFZ) in Leipzig (for Module A) and at the Centre for Agricultural Landscape and Land Use Research (ZALF) in Müncheberg (for Module B). The scientific coordination projects support the projects in communications and public relations work. They also compile the results of the projects, adopting an integrated approach to develop their own findings. This generates new information, models of land use or recommendations for land management which are general enough to be transferred and applied to other, similar regions.

The aim of the Federal Ministry of Education and Research’s “Sustainable Land Management” funding measure is to contribute to the development and implementation of practical solutions for global and regional challenges. It seeks to develop new perspectives on the responsible use of the scarce resource land.