Royal Society Publishing

The environmental implications of intensified land use in developing countries

P. B. Tinker


The major agricultural intensifications in the developed world over the last half century have produced a range of important environmental problems. These include pollution, damage to wildlife and landscape and other issues, both on- and off-site. These are largely being controlled by scientific investigation and Government regulation. As developing countries increase agricultural production over the next 30 years, this may also cause even more serious environmental damage.

The paper distinguishes between production-related on-site damage, and off-site and more extensive effects. Both may involve soil and water effects, such as soil erosion, salinization, siltation, eutrophication and loss of water quality. The use of more agrochemicals can damage water quality, health, wildlife and biodiversity. Loss of habitat from the extension of farming is particularly damaging to biodiversity. A developing off-site problem is the production of greenhouse gases by farming systems, including the conversion of forests to farmland. In the future the introduction of genetically engineered species of plants, animals or microbes will need secure control.

Work, probably on a catchment basis, is necessary to understand and control these problems. The three main requirements are much better environmental information from the developing world; the selection of environmental indicators to be monitored; and the support of local farmers in protecting the environment. There are encouraging indications of farmer concern and action over obvious on-site damage, but this may not extend to extensive off-site issues. The main danger is that developing food scarcity would cause the environmental issues to be ignored in a race for production.

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