Optimizing Agricultural Landscapes: Measures Towards Prosperity and Sustainability
Due to the multiplicity of challenges facing all societies at the beginning of the twenty-first century, agricultural systems and rural landscapes are under pressure. Solutions for their optimization towards sustainability at high productivity are required. We address the majority of current agricultural systems and discuss approaches for assessing their sustainability. Life cycle analyses and footprint methods have experienced much progress but require further qualification. Some alternative farming systems such as organic agriculture, agroecology, regenerative agriculture, ecological intensification, and sustainable intensification, which are based on landscape approaches and direct farmer–consumer interactions have potential for significant improvements towards the sustainability of global agriculture and need further attention and promotion in research and practice. Technology-driven smart farming technologies can be implemented in all these kinds of farming systems. A key to preventing the degradation of agricultural landscapes and improving ecology and economics lies in their better structural development and design, adapted to geosystem settings, legacies of local cultural history and opportunities presented by urban–rural interactions. For achieving better landscape design, it is worth thinking about reforming and strengthening land consolidation as a planned participatory process involving the rural community. Further, scientifically sound and policy relevant rules and steering instruments have to be developed for the design and cultural evolution of rural landscapes. The European Union (EU) and other wealthy economic zones, federations, countries, and regions have developed funding systems for agriculture. The Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) of the EU is a powerful tool promoting both the possession and ownership of agricultural land (pillar I, main pillar) and rural development (pillar II). This system should be better balanced by shifting towards pillar II to promote further ecosystem services in agricultural regions. Novel solutions should be aimed at for maintaining landscape diversity and heritage, developing local food cultures and agritourism, and strengthening rural communities and their societal image. Transdisciplinary international model projects are useful contributions to making innovations operable.