Production Ecological Footprint Spatial Analysis in the Agricultural Sector (Case Study: Rural Settlements of Birjand County)

Document Type : Thesis Article


1 Department of Geography, Faculty of literature and humanities, University of Birjand, Birjand, Iran

2 MSc student, Department of Geography, Faculty of literature and humanities, University of Birjand, Birjand, Iran


Sustainable development primarily focuses on social and economic approaches, posing the possibility of environmental resources diminishing due to unstable human activities. The ecological environment of rural areas defines the basis of human well-being in these regions. Neglecting the ecological dimension in various aspects of rural development may lead to numerous problems in approaches aiming for economic progress. Considering the importance of sustainable development in rural areas, this study aimed to measure and analyze the sustainability level of rural areas in Birjand County's agricultural sector using the ecological footprint index. The data for this research was obtained through questionnaires and interviews with 220 rural farmers in 2023. The results of this study, concerning 30 studied villages in 6 districts and three types of rural areas (mountainous, foothill, and plain), were presented in the agricultural sector. The findings indicated that the average ecological footprint per capita in the agricultural sector was 2.33 hectares, and the average biocapacity was 80.44 hectares, indicating the absence of ecological pressure in the agricultural sector of this county. The ecological footprint per capita in agricultural areas of mountainous villages was lower compared to foothill and plain villages. This research revealed no significant relationship between the distance of a village from the population center and its ecological footprint in the agricultural sector in Birjand County.
Keywords: Sustainable development, Ecological footprint, Ecological pressure, rural economic, production

Extended Abstract

1. Introduction
Throughout the world, agricultural lands are excessively utilized beyond their capacity to meet the needs of urban populations. The primary production in rural habitats lies within the agricultural sector, which faces the most significant production pressure due to the increasing urbanization trend. As Earth's population grows, along with an associated rise in consumption and production, aligning agricultural development with environmental conservation appears as an enduring challenge. The expansion of agricultural lands represents a complex land-use change phenomenon, exerting substantial pressure on natural resources. The imbalance between development and sustainable growth in any region leads to regional and spatial disparities, hindering national development. Additionally, urban area sustainability is interlinked with rural area sustainability, highlighting the necessity for studies investigating the sustainability level of rural areas. Given the significance of sustainable development in rural regions and the influential factors in the agricultural sector, this research aims to analyze the impact of agricultural production in rural settlements of Birjand County on the region's ecosystem sustainability using the ecological footprint index.
2. Methodology
This research utilized a researcher-developed questionnaire for data collection. Sampling was conducted at two levels: rural settlements with a population of over 20 households in Birjand County and at the household level. As a result, 220 producers from 30 villages in Birjand County were studied. The ecological footprint of agricultural production was calculated using a Location-Based approach that considers sustainability on a small scale. To estimate the ecological footprint of agricultural production activities in rural spaces under study, the ecological footprint of water, gasoline, diesel fuel consumption, and generated waste for each agricultural operator was initially calculated. Then, the total agricultural land and related storage areas for tools and product maintenance of each operator were added as ecological footprints of production. To estimate the biocapacity of the studied villages, the areas of pasturelands, total agricultural lands, and residential areas in each village were summed up in hectares.
3. Results
The average ecological footprint per agricultural operator in Birjand County is 2.33 hectares. The highest ecological footprint in the agricultural sector per operator, amounting to 4.71 hectares, is observed in the Fasharoud district. This indicates that an agricultural operator in the villages of the Fasharoud district requires 4.71 hectares of land to meet their basic agricultural production needs. The lowest ecological footprint for agricultural production per operator is related to the Baqeran district. As expected, operators in villages located in plain areas have higher ecological footprints in agricultural sectors compared to other villages. These respective values for villages in plain areas, foothill typology villages, and mountainous villages are 2.99 hectares, 2.80 hectares, and 1.47 hectares, respectively. The average biocapacity estimated for each rural household in the studied region (Birjand County) is 80.44 hectares, indicating that none of the studied villages face ecological pressure from the agricultural perspective.
4. Discussion
Available land and the lack of utilization of new technologies in irrigation, planting, harvesting, and the cultivation of low-water-consuming crops have contributed to the ecological sustainability of the agricultural sector in this county. The environmental consequences typical of conventional agricultural systems are not readily observable in this region. Environmental impacts in agriculture heavily rely on the nature of production operations. Mountainous villages, despite having fewer households, possess lower biocapacity and lack the ability to withstand high ecological pressures. Foothill villages, given their placement of pastures and agricultural lands in lower areas and their lower population compared to plain villages, have registered the highest biocapacity.
5. Conclusion
Considering recent droughts, policies aimed at increasing agricultural production levels should be meticulously planned, particularly concerning irrigation methods, especially for mountainous regions. Given the fragile natural and economic conditions in Birjand County, adherence to sustainable development principles and the implementation of a systematic and scientific plan are among the essential prerequisites in this region, particularly during this critical period. Conducting scientific research and being informed about the current situation can significantly assist planners at various levels. This study attempted to gather raw data based on the present conditions in the area and provide decision-makers with appropriate analyses through data processing.
6. Acknowledgments
This paper was extracted from the MSc thesis of the first author in Department of Geography, Faculty of literature and humanities, university of Birjand, Birjand, Iran.


Main Subjects

Articles in Press, Accepted Manuscript
Available Online from 29 April 2024
  • Receive Date: 07 December 2023
  • Revise Date: 13 April 2024
  • Accept Date: 15 April 2024