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Global Environmental Change
Volume 69, 2021, 102313

Agroecological measures and circular economy strategies to ensure sufficient nitrogen for sustainable farming

T.G. Moraisa, R.F.M. Teixeirab, et al.,

MARETEC – Marine, Environment and Technology Centre, LARSyS, Instituto Superior Técnico, Universidade de Lisboa, Avenida Rovisco Pais 1, 1049-001 Lisboa, Portugal


Sustainable food systems face trade-offs between demands of low environmental pressures per unit area and requirements of increasing production. Organic farming has lower yields than conventional agriculture and requires the introduction of nitrogen (N) fixing legumes in crop rotations. Here we perform an integrated assessment of the feasibility of future food systems in terms of land and N availability and the potential for reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Results show that switching to 100% organic farming without additional measures results in N deficiency. Dietary change towards a reduced share of animal products can aggravate N limitations, which can be overcome through the implementation of a combination of agroecological, circular economy and decarbonization strategies. These measures help to recycle and transfer N from grassland. A vegan diet from fully decarbonized conventional production performs similarly as the optimized organic scenario. Sustainable food systems hence require measures beyond the agricultural sector.

Keywords: Nutrient cycling, Food systems, Organic farming, Human diets.

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