Land-sharing vs. land-sparing debate – moving towards a more constructive conversation about agriculture and the environment?
We are opening this forum discussion to encourage a debate, and hear reflections from our diverse group of members, on a recent article discussing the land-sharing versus land-sparing debate. It argues that this debate has stagnated and provides ideas about how we can move forward and break with the overly reductionist ‘food vs. biodiversity’ discourse that pervades agricultural and environmental thought and move towards a holistic approach focused on maximising human well-being.
The article Changing the agriculture and environment conversation (which was summarised in our newsletter) argues that agricultural scientists, development economists, and ecologists have talked past each other ineffectively for decades. This is mainly because important social factors, such as food distribution, waste, poverty, and inequality, along with personal food choices are left out of the debate, despite their importance for determining whether or not increased land availability will in fact lead to increased biodiversity conservation and whether increases in food production will in fact lead to increased food security.
Some other points of critique of previous studies:
- “Those studies that have quantified aspects of the debate tend to focus on particular species in particular places. As a result, the scientific community lacks the ability to generalize across locations, measurements, and species.”
- “…scientific studies of the relative merits of land sparing and land sharing typically fail to account for many factors that could help generalize the results, such as site history, surrounding landscape, or the influence of scale on results.”
The article argues that we need to widen the discussion and reframe the question, moving from a simplistic focus on how agricultural landscapes improve food production and biodiversity to highlighting the many ways in which agricultural landscapes improve human well-being (for example, by providing aesthetically appealing landscapes, helping to regulate disease and flooding, storing carbon, or purifying water.) The two sides can in this way be joined, as both the endeavour of lifting people out of poverty by growing more food, and the need to protect the environment from degradation, help improve human well-being.
We want to hear your thoughts and reflections after reading this article
- To what extent do you agree with the points made in this article?
- How might we draw out actionable points from the author’s suggestions?
- What do you think is the way forward to create a more constructive discussion?
Share below your answers to these questions, and any other thoughts you have on the topic.
For more articles and reports discussing land-sharing and/or land-sparing see our research library collection on this topic here.