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Projects Sustainable land management and cities

The Environmental Geography department conducts research towards the characterisation of land management and urban structures.

Accounting for diversity in structure and function of land and urban systems helps to target possible interventions at the right place and identify leverage points for systemic change.

Below an overview


  • FOOD4CITIES (2019-present)

    By 2050, 70% of the world’s population will live in cities. Africa will account for more than two thirds of this growth, and costs of food insecurity and malnutrition – historically considered a rural problem – will increasingly be transferred to cities. Acknowledging this challenge, this project aims to promote sustainable and nutrition-secure city food systems in Africa by developing knowledge and tools for local and national development planning.

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  • RecaP (2021-2025)

    We are facing a global phosphorus challenge. Phosphorus is a limited resource, which is unevenly distributed globally, while at the same time excess phosphorus causes widespread pollution. In other words, there is too little P for food production, yet too much in the environment. Solving this challenge cut across many different disciplines and sectors, including waste, environment, agriculture and food. RecaP is an Innovative Training Network (ITN) that will address the changing Phosphorus (P) needs by creating a new generation of P specialists to become ‘knowledge brokers’ across disciplinary silos. RecaP will develop novel methods to capture and recover phosphorus, will explore more sustainable ways of utilising and recycling phosphorus, and will explore and address barriers and opportunities for sustainable phosphorus management at multiple scales. 

    Contact information: Dr Nynke Schulp.

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  • Sustainable Settlements (2019-2024)

    Human settlements, ranging from villages to metropolises, are at the core of many sustainability challenges. They are locations of economic growth and home to the vast majority of the global population. At the same time, settlements compete with food production and nature for the limited amount of land, and are increasingly vulnerable to climate change impacts. As settlements are changing at unprecedented rates, there is now room to steer towards more sustainable trajectories. Land use models are important tools to explore future settlement change trajectories. However, current large-scale models only represent built-up land, and disregard different types of settlements. Therefore, they cannot analyse alternative settlement change trajectories or evaluate policies that aim to reduce potential negative impacts of these changes.

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  • SIPATH – Operationalizing Sustainable Agricultural Intensification Pathways in Europe (2019-2024)

    Sustainable Intensification of agriculture (SI) is advocated by both, scientists and policy makers, as a solution for the dilemma between the need to increase agricultural production and the need to reduce the environmental burden which intensification historically entailed. Yet it is largely unclear, if and how this potential win-win situation can be realized. The overall objective of SIPATH is to operationalize the somewhat fuzzy concept of SI. We will establish a strong conceptual framework on agricultural intensification, which we will confront with empirical data to understand the mechanisms of agricultural development in Europe over the past decades, and with mega-trends, including climatic, societal and technological developments that are likely to affect the future of agriculture in Europe. Based on the improved understanding gained, the goal is then to identify potential pathways of SI at the continental, but regionally differentiated scale.

    Contact information: Dr Christian Levers and Prof. Peter Verburg.

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  • TERRANOVA (2020)

    European societies have exploited and managed their landscapes for millennia, but recent rapid socioeconomic changes and high societal demands on the environment have become a challenge for land managers. Climate and land use changes are recognized as the greatest threats to biodiversity, ecosystem services and human well-being. Land planning decisions for the future need to be based on a deeper knowledge about the physical, social, and cultural characteristics of the landscapes and the possible impacts of alternative land use and management developments. 

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  • VITAL (2016-2019)

    Large societal challenges related to food security and environmental degradation have caused increasing attention for sustainable intensification (SI). SI cannot be implemented through a generic, single development pathway for all agricultural systems. Alternative pathways and actions to achieve SI depend on the local and regional agronomic, environmental and socio-economic conditions. The project VITAL explored transition processes of European agricultural systems towards sustainably intensified production accounting for the spatial variation in contextual conditions. VITAL identified distinct Fields of Action for sustainable intensification that are relevant across agricultural systems, and showed how the spatial contexts of agricultural systems and the role of actors, lead to, or inhibit, alternate transition processes of SI. Accounting for these conditions, suitable spatial configurations of SI across different land use systems are identified. The feasibility of different SI pathways was upscaled to larger areas in Europe, hence moving beyond the level of individual farms and regions.

    Contact information: Dr Nynke Schulp.

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