Resources & Articles 

On this page we list resources and publications resulting from our programs and wider network.





Agricultural land use is one of the major factors contributing to land degradation and desertification. Currently 24 billion tons of fertile soil and 12 million hectares of agricultural land are lost each year worldwide. Agro-ecological farming has a large potential for reducing land degradation. However, the implementation of this farming method is often limited by a range of barriers. AlVelAl, an ecosystem restoration association in the Spanish Altiplano, is working with farmers to restore the land and improve farm management practices, but transition on farm level is slow. Therefore this thesisdetermines which barriers are of importance and which interventions are needed to influence farmers’decision-making. It builds on a framework of conditions necessary for transition and explores the social, economic, political and informational factors that influence farmer decision-making, after which it analyses how a transition can be governed by the stakeholders involved.

This research was conducted in Andalusia, Spain, which has the highest desertification rate in Europe. The results show that farmers’ motivation is positively influenced by being part of a community of practitioners due to the knowledge gained regarding the costs and benefits of applying agro-ecological practices. Barriers to transition are due to a lack of finances, skills, and a government and community based culture of conservatism. Demo farms and supporting agro-ecological trials by farmers, are likely to increase the adoption of agro-ecological practice. This support can be in the form of extra labour, a kick-start grant, and technical expertise.

Author: Y.M. Schoonhoven MSC., Utrecht University


The effects of compost, natural and seeded vegetation on ecosystem services in conventionally managed almond orchards in Southern Spain

Abstract: Conventional management in woody fruit-crop systems, which includes frequent tillage and ground cover removal, contributes to widespread land degradation in Mediterranean Europe. To test if degraded ecosystem services can be rehabilitated through agro-ecological management, we conducted a field experiment where compost application, natural and seeded vegetation covers were implemented in five conventionally managed almond orchards. We measured the effect of these treatments in six ecosystem services: 1) nutrient cycling, 2) habitat provisioning, 3) carbon sequestration, 4) maintenance of soil fertility, 5) pest control, and 6) agricultural provisioning. First, we found that almond systems with compost application were related to the highest overall ecosystem services potential and conventional tillage to the lowest overall ecosystem services potential. Second, both no-tillage with natural vegetation and green manure with seeded vegetation are most efficient in rehabilitating carbon sequestration and habitat provisioning services. Third, compost and no tillage were effective measures to rehabilitate nutrient cycling services, such as soil organic matter decomposition and nutrient availability in the soil. This study showed that rehabilitation processes can occur more rapidly than was demonstrated in previous research. Combining both soil amendments and vegetation cover management appears to be a promising approach to rehabilitate a wide range of ecosystem services, including provisioning, regulating and supporting services.

Author: V. De Leijster, PhD researcher Sustainable Land Use, Copernicus Institute for Sustainable Development at Utrecht University

Article: Agroecological management improves ecosystem services in almond orchards within one year

Foto 27-07-18 17 29 55 (1).jpg

Ecological restoration of a natural site in semi-arid southeast Spain

For this thesis-project at Alvelal association, the ecological restoration of a 16ha natural site was planned for the farm La Junquera in south-east semi-arid Spain in the province of Murcia. The site is degraded due to a long history of land use. The degradation consists mainly of the removal of the tree layer and soil erosion.

The plan aims to reduce soil erosion and to recover the composition, structure and function of the original native ecosystem and additionally, to contribute to the functioning and productivity of the farm. The plan is based on knowledge and data acquired during a research phase. The methodology consisted of literature reviews, expert interviews, GIS analysis and field research methods. The research result consisted of: 1) A site diagnosis, in which I analysed and described the climate and the local conditions in terms of terrain, soil, vegetation and erosion, 2) A description of the desired reference ecosystem, where I identified what kind of plant species, vegetation structures and functional aspects belonged to the original native ecosystem and 3) An overview of the constraints and approved methods for restoration in this region.

Author: T. Kuchler., Van Hall Larenstein

Short study on agroforestry possibilities on La Junquera, Murcia, Spain

Schermafdruk 2019-07-15 10.20.06.png

Based on the study on food forests carried out over the last months this short report was set up. This report focusses on the design of the food forest and why this design was made this way. Hereafter recommendations are given on aspects that should be focused on when starting a food forest. From the full study the conclusion was made that food forests are not highly feasible, and therefore other forms of agroforestry are mentioned. The assessment of the current situation and reference studies that cover experiences with agroforestry in other countries are mentioned in the full study.

Authors: Elin Thomassen, Jesse Frissel, Luuk van Elk & Rick Kappen