Mechanisms to increase agricultural productivity and spare land for conservation

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“Green rice field in Chiang Rai, Thailand” by punsayaporn

Habitat loss driven by expanding agricultural land is a major driver of biodiversity loss. Two, seemingly opposing, strategies have been proposed as a way of reconciling increased demand for agricultural production and conservation of biodiversity, and in turn preventing further conversion of natural habitat to farming: land sparing (the intensification of agriculture to set aside land for conservation) and land sharing (the integration of farming and conservation on agricultural land such as eco-agriculture).

Up until now the land sparing/land sharing debate has largely revolved around theoretical arguments. Much of the support for land sparing has come from using data to maximise the number of species conserved under a fixed level of agricultural production in various settings, with the finding that more species are negatively affected by agriculture than benefit from it. But, in general, little of the discussion has focused on the way in which land sparing might be achieved. Now in a recent paper in Science by Phalan et al, the way in which land sparing could become a practical approach to biodiversity conservation and improved agricultural productivity is explained in more detail.

Land sparing as an approach has been criticised for failing to consider situations where agricultural intensification has stimulated expansion of farming rather than protection of land for conservation. Proponents of the approach acknowledge this phenomena and the fact that rising demands and increased productivity can increase the “opportunity cost of conservation”. To tackle this significant obstacle authors introduce four mechanisms that aim to link agricultural productivity and biodiversity or habitat conservation, and thus avoid rebound effects of increased yields driving growth in the agricultural industry rather than sparing land.

  • Land use zoning. By zoning areas for agriculture or conservation, expansion can be limited, which may motivate landholders to improve productivity and efficiency on existing agricultural land. There is the potential for habitat to be converted to farming outside of the zoned area though, otherwise known as displacement or leakage. The success of Costa Rica in halving deforestation of mature forests by preventing agricultural expansion onto forests through zoning, and the subsequent increase in fruit production, is given as an example.
  • Economic instruments, such as payments, land taxes, and subsidies. Such instruments can have conditions built in to protect habitat for biodiversity but they are also notoriously difficult to implement and maintain so that all parties benefit. Considered a successful example, the incentive programme jointly developed by herders and local government in the Spiti Valley of Himalayan India to set aside land for snow leopard prey in exchange for payment and technical assistance has, within the first four years of the project, reduced the amount of livestock killed by snow leopards by two-thirds and reduced the amount of snow leopards killed down to zero. [Read more…]

What we’ve been reading this week

This week’s summary on the news stories, reports and blogs that have grabbed our attention. We welcome your thoughts and comments on these articles.

Do Aid and Development need their own TripAdvisor feedback system?, From Poverty to Power

Rebranding bran: teaching nutrient-rich cooking in Mali, The Guardian

African hub set up to boost research autonomy, Nature

Global Food Industry Reluctant Leaders of Smallholder Farming Revolution, The Huffington Post

Managing for Resilience: Framing an integrated landscape approach for overcoming chronic and acute food insecurity, Buck and Bailey

Agri-tech for Africa’s food security, development, SciDev.Net

Water-Smart Agriculture in East Africa, PAEPARD

New interactive tool brings malnutrition data to life, Devex

Fateful Harvest: Why Brazil has a big appetite for risky pesticides, Reuters

Denmark’s Drug-Free Pigs, The New York Times [Read more…]

What we’ve been reading this week

This week’s summary on the news stories, reports and blogs that have grabbed our attention. We welcome your thoughts and comments on these articles.

Chicago Council’s Grow Markets, Fight Hunger Report Featured, Global Food for Thought

FAO food price index drops again in March driven by sugar’s sharp slide, FAO

Deforestation is messing with our weather — and our food, EurekAlert

Agriculture and Agrometeorological Services, PAEPARD

Yesterday’s bread against food waste, Plantwise

“Why Wait Until the Next Food Crisis?” Improving Food Reserves Strategies in East Africa, ACORD

Why we should be worried by the World Bank shoveling $36bn to ‘financial intermediaries’, From Poverty to Power

Feeding the World – Without GMOs, EWG

We’re treating soil like dirt. It’s a fatal mistake, as our lives depend on it, The Guardian [Read more…]

What we’ve been reading this week

This week’s summary on the news stories, reports and blogs that have grabbed our attention. We welcome your thoughts and comments on these articles.

Tropical forest losses outpace UN estimates, Nature

Ten things the G7 needs to hear on Hunger, Welthungerhilfe

Food Waste Is Becoming Serious Economic and Environmental Issue, Report Says, The New York Times

Bill Gates: Can GMOs end hunger in Africa?, The Verge

A Modest Proposal for Feeding Africa, Huffington Post

Food security in Africa needs a tailored approach, suggests new research, EurekAlert

Beans could help fill Africa’s fertiliser gap, SciDev.Net

Healthy Food for a Healthy World: Wasted Food, Wasted Nutrients, Global Food for Thought [Read more…]

What we’ve been reading this week

This week’s summary on the news stories, reports and blogs that have grabbed our attention. We welcome your thoughts and comments on these articles.

Tropical forests illegally destroyed for commercial agriculture, The Guardian

FAO food price index drops to four-year low, FAO

Rise in greenhouse-gas concentrations continues at alarming rate, Nature

How will the new EU team line up on GMOs, TTIP and energy?, Ecologist

Agricultural revolution in Africa could increase global carbon emissions, Purdue University

Demand for agricultural products drives ‘shock’ tree loss in tropical forests, BBC

Women are much more powerful in agriculture than you might think, Thomson Reuters Foundation

Plant diversity in China vital for global food security, University of Birmingham

Amazon deforestation jumps 29%, The Guardian

Report: A new approach to governing GM crops? Lessons from Brazil, Mexico and India, University of Durham

Harmonizing crop trait data: Crop Ontology, Bioversity International

Corporate influence through the G8 New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition in Africa, Wolfgang Obenland

Field trial of Xanthomonas wilt disease-resistant bananas in East Africa, Nature [Read more…]

What we’ve been reading this week

This week’s summary on the news stories, reports and blogs that have grabbed our attention. We welcome your thoughts and comments on these articles.

NIAB leads taskforce on new sustainable intensification guidelines, Farming Online

Are we measuring the right things? The latest multidimensional poverty index is launched today – what do you think?, Duncan Green, Oxfam

Study: Deforestation leaves fish undersized and underfed, BBC News

GMO 2.0: genetically modified foods with added health benefits, The Guardian

EU Nations Back Flexibility on Biotech-Crop Cultivation, Bloomberg

Countries recognize vital role of small-scale fishers, FAO

How Do We Feed The Next One Billion People?, Forbes

The hungry and forgotten, The Economist

[Read more…]

What we’ve been reading this week

This week’s summary on the news stories, reports and blogs that have grabbed our attention. We welcome your thoughts and comments on these articles.

Progress Reported in Global Food and Nutrition Security, but DuPont Committee Notes Significant Challenges Lie Ahead, PR Web

Commentary – Sustainable intensification: a single solution for a double challenge, Global Food for Thought

The First GMO Field Tests, Modern Farmer

An Inconvenient Truth About Our Food, The New York Times

Report highlights growing role of fish in feeding the world, FAO

Report Urges U.S. Commitment to Addressing Impact of Climate Change on Global Food Security, The Chicago Council on Global Affairs

Gmo myths and truths report, Earth Open Source

The food system we choose affects biodiversity: do we want monocultures?, The Guardian

Who Wants to Farm? Hardly any young people, it seems. Should/Could that change?, Duncan Green, Oxfam

14 pointers toward a better food system: Connecting the (local, sustainable) dots, Grist [Read more…]