Agriculture is one of the most vulnerable sectors to climate change effects due its high dependence to climatic conditions. For this reason, agricultural systems are facing increasing pressure to shift production towards more resilient systems, able to adapt to damaging climate change effects, while continuing to ensure sufficient supplies of food products for a growing global population, which is expected to reach 9.7 billion in 2050, according to FAO. For these reasons, agricultural resilience is among the top priorities in research.
Climate change effects on food supply are still uncertain. However, some expected damaging effects include the following: high risk of droughts, high temperatures, yield reduction in crop productivity (e.g., wheat yields could decrease up to 50%), land degradation & soil pollution, high risks of fires, energy inflation (thus affecting crops irrigation).
Sustainability targets by 2030
Under this scenario, and in order to ensure resilience and sustainability of agricultural systems against climate change effects, the EU has set up the targets by 2030 as part of the European Green Deal, Farm to Fork Strategy and Biodiversity Strategy.
- Reduce by 50% overall use of chemical pesticides & more hazardous pesticides.
- Reduce by 50% nutrient losses (ensuring no deterioration in soil fertility)
- Reduce by 20 % use of fertilizers and achieve 25% of the EU’s agricultural land under organic farming.
During the last years, monoculture has been widely developed in the last centuries in response to the increasing food demand, as it results in a higher yield of crop production, it is easier to manage and generates economic profit very quickly. However, during the lasts years it has been demonstrated that under this critical scenario, crop diversification seems to be a feasible alternative to ensure sustainable crop production and ensure food supply chain in the upcoming years.
The potential of crop diversification
Crop diversification means growing more than one crop in the same area and it is a good opportunity for climate change adaptation as it provides environmental benefits such as: pest management, pollinators attraction, reduce soil erosion, conserve soil biodiversity thus reducing crop inputs needs (e.g., pesticides) while increasing gross incomes. For these reasons, crop diversification is considered a good alternative to monocrops in order to flight climate change. For example, the inclusion of legumes into rotation reduces spending on nitrogen fertilizer or adding crops into the rotation, resulting in fewer pest problems and reducing expenditures on pesticides (Crop Diversification, 2023).
However, despite the demonstrated benefits of crops diversification, its adoption in Europe is still low, as in 2014 only 1,5% of the arable land in Europe was allocated to the cultivation of grain legumes, which constitute one of the main emblematic crops of diversification, while they were grown on 14,5% of arable land globally.
Therefore, increased research in Crop diversification in highly needed in Europe to shift from traditional monoculture systems to more diversified farming system in order to ensure food chain resilience and climate change adaptation in the upcoming years.