An ecological footprint approach for cropland use sustainability based on multi-objective optimization modelling.
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Croplands are heterogeneous in productivity and their sustainable use holds a prominent place in supporting a virtual society-economy-ecology-environment circle. This study developed a model for the evaluation of cropland use sustainability by integrating the revised ecological footprint model with multi-objective optimization. The model enabled to gain insights into changes of the supply-demand balance of cropland use ecologically from a planning perspective, and also enables policy makers to determine the optimal patterns of cropland use in order to reconcile contradictions between multiple dimensions in agroecosystems, such as resource utilization, economy, society, and environment. The model was demonstrated by solving a real-world problem of cropland use management in Heilongjiang Province, northeast China. Results of demonstration were found to be satisfactory for generating sustainable cropland use patterns in promoting the equilibrium of water use efficiency, net economic benefit, land resource allocation equity, and greenhouse gas emissions. Then, whether various cropland use patterns were ecologically safe based on crop ecological footprint and crop ecological carrying capacity were determined. The status and scenario-based trend of cropland use sustainability provided alternatives for policy makers to allocate cropland efficiently and sustainably. The model is applicable for similar planting-centered regions with limited land and water resources.