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Projects Land system change and sustainability transformations

The Environmental Geography department studies processes of land change at scales ranging from local to global.

They have a long track record in developing world-leading land change models and advanced spatial analysis.

Below an overview


  • Amazon Tipping Points (2020-present)

    IVM is collaborating with the Interamerican Development Bank (IaDB) to analyse how future changes in production of crops and livestock might result in deforestation in the wider Amazon region, impacting biodiversity, soil erosion, nutrient run-off and carbon sequestration. Together with the IaDB, we develop a novel framework, linking the Integrated Economic-Environmental Modeling (IEEM) Platform with a spatial land use change model and an Ecosystem Services Model. Advancing the state-of-the-art in integrated economic-environmental modelling, our framework for the first time integrates dynamic endogenous feedbacks between natural capital, ecosystem services and the economic system to fully capture how changes in natural capital and ecosystem service flows affect the economy and vice versa. Our approach quantitatively models the economy, natural capital and ecosystem services as one integrated and complex system at a high level of spatial resolution across the wider Amazon region (Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru). We demonstrate how valuing biodiversity in public policy and investment analysis can make the difference between an investment that is economically viable and one that is not. The economic and environmental benefits of enhancing the region’s natural capital base and future ecosystem service supply are demonstrated and regionally differentiated, which provides a strong empirical evidence base to inform the spatial targeting of policies to maximise economic, environmental and social outcomes.

    Contact information: Dr Žiga Malek and Prof. Peter Verburg

  • SESYNC pursuit on Enhancing Diversity (2019-present)

    Diversity matters. Diversity in colour, gender, culture, and ideas, are what make our world interesting and beautiful. In recent years diversity in our agricultural systems has been rapidly changing. Two existing SESYNC projects aim to understand the political drivers of this change, and its impacts on human nutrition. Our project aims to complement, and work with, these existing projects by laying the groundwork for operationalizing a monitoring network for assessing the benefits and costs of agricultural diversification with respect to the Food-Energy- Water nexus. To do this, our project will analyse and synthesize data from our network’s existing empirical projects in North America, South America and Africa. Each of these projects works with multiple farms arrayed across local and landscape-scale gradients of diversification. We will couple these analyses with a coordinated mapping effort to synthesize large-scale data sets and classifications of agricultural diversity patterns. We will then integrate these data to (1) undertake trade-off and multifunctionality analysis, (2) identify key gaps in currently linking social and environmental outcomes in survey instruments, and (3) devise a common protocol for operationalizing assessments of agricultural landscape diversity and outcomes over time. Our rich localized data-sets, coupled with our growing collaborative global network offer an opportunity for new scientific insights into the assessing the costs and benefits of agricultural diversification at large spatial scales. Our commitment to working with farmers in the fields across geographic and cultural contexts offer a direct means to translate insights into action.

    Contact information: Dr Christian Levers.

    More info:

  • LegumeGap (2019-2022)

    Grain legumes increase the resilience of cropping systems and farm businesses through diversification and enhance environmental and socio-economic sustainability by (a) reducing fertilizer and pesticide use, greenhouse gas emissions, soil degradation and biodiversity loss, (b) increasing protein self-sufficiency, and (c) contributing to sustainable diets. Sustainable intensification, fully utilizing the potential of legumes, is key for enabling agricultural production when resources are limited and climate is changing.

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  • Research for the EU Commission DG Trade (2019-2021)

    IVM has been a partner of a consortium that developed a methodology to better assess biodiversity impacts of European trade liberalization agreements. The consortium, lead by the Institute for European Environmental Policy (, developed a methodology that outlined a stepwise process on how to set up and carry out an assessment of the impacts of trade liberalisation on biodiversity in a structured and consistent manner, with a special focus on quantifying the impacts. It was designed to be implemented as part of the Commission’s overall trade impact assessment process, both before and/or during the trade negotiations (ex-ante) and when trade agreements are in place (ex-post). The methodological framework was envisioned to lead to trade liberalization with a lower negative impact on biodiversity.

    Contact information: Dr Žiga Malek.

  • GLOLAND (2013-2019)

    Land is a limited resource that is under pressure of demand from different sectors and affected by many of the global targets in the Sustainable Development Goals. While serving the global population, land management is decided upon by individual land owners and managers that pursue different objectives and have different means. The GLOLAND project (ERC Consolidator Grant to Peter Verburg) addressed land as a socio-ecological system and explicitly addressed the different actors and decision making mechanisms that are important to land use change. Insights in decision making and the variety of land systems were included in a land systems model that simulates changes between different land management systems including agricultural systems that range from shifting cultivation for subsistence needs to large-scale land acquisitions serving the global value chains. The land systems model CLUMondo was applied both on national and global scales. For the global scale the model allowed making an exploration of how land systems globally would look like if the agreed international targets that relate to land restoration and reforestation would be achieved. This simulation sheds insights in the trade-offs embedded in such targets and the possible pathways of achieving such global targets.

    For more information contact Prof. Peter Verburg 

    This project has received funding from the European Union’s Seventh Framework Programme for research, technological development and demonstration under Grant Agreement No. 311819