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Trade-Offs in Multi-Purpose Land Use under Land Degradation

Land provides a host of ecosystem services, of which the provisioning services are often considered paramount. As the demand for agricultural products multiplies, other ecosystem services are being degraded or lost entirely. Finding a sustainable trade-off between food production and one or more of other ecosystem services, given the variety of stakeholders, is a matter of optimizing land use in a dynamic and complex socio-ecological system.

Land degradation reduces our options to meet both food demands and environmental needs. In order to illustrate this trade-off dilemma, four representative services, carbon sinks, water storage, biodiversity, and space for urbanization, are discussed here based on a review of contemporary literature that cuts across the domain of ecosystem services that are provided by land.

Agricultural research will have to expand its focus from the field to the landscape level and in the process examine the cost of production that internalizes environmental costs. In some situations, the public cost of agriculture in marginal environments outweighs the private gains, even with the best technologies in place.