Multifunctional landscapes – food production

By 2050, global food demand is expected to increase by 30 - 60%. While there are lots of ways we should try to slow this growing demand (for example, through dietary changes or waste reduction), it is a near certainty that agricultural productivity will need to increase to feed a growing population.

One way this could be done is by expanding the total footprint of agricultural area. But in the UK agriculture already dominates the landscape, making up more than 70% of the land. With the need to protect natural habitats and expand forests and woodland to sequester carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, this would not be a favourable option.

We therefore need to consider food production alongside the other things we need from land. In some cases, that might mean intensifying the output from agriculture, but doing so in a sustainable way that minimises or even has positive environmental impacts (for instance by using natural pest management instead of pesticides). In other areas, overall benefits might be increased if food production is combined with other land uses. For example, agroforestry combines food production with forestry.

How do we balance the needs for food production against other pressing needs such as reducing greenhouse gases, biodiversity, water quality, recreation and protection from floods, droughts and wildfires? The Royal Society’s Multifunctional Landscapes report advises on the use of science to increase the productivity of land and makes recommendations on the data, innovation, skills and policy required to create landscapes which meet society’s many needs efficiently and sustainably.