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

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