The world’s population is rising and with it are food demands. Policymakers are targeting Africa’s wet savannas as expendable areas easily converted into cropland. A study out from Princeton University finds that such a conversion to farmland would come at a high environmental cost.
Without dense treecover, the savannas have been a primary target for many analysts, citing that the impact to the environment would not be as great as in a forest. In the past, large lands such as these have been leased out to groups for agricultural and bioenergy uses. However, this new study finds that only two to eleven percent of Africa’s wet savannas are suitable for producing staple crops, while also emitting less carbon dioxide than the average cropland across the globe.
When land conversion is considered, less than one percent of these lands would produce biofuels that meet the greenhouse gas reduction standards for Europe. Researchers found that recovering from converting just half of the savannas into cropland would take fifty years, mostly due to the amount of carbon released during the conversion. Before the ten year mark, less than one percent would be recovered. It is estimated that to meet Africa’s growing food needs, Africa would need to expand its cropland area by 350 million acres. This conversion would amount to 33 billion tons of carbon dioxide released - the same amount released globally in 2013.