Minimising the harm to biodiversity of producing more food globally
Should farming and conservation policies aim broadly to separate land for nature and land for production (land sparing) or integrate production and conservation on the same land (wildlife-friendly farming)? Most studies that try to address this question suffer from flaws in sampling design, inappropriate metrics, and/or failure to measure biodiversity baselines. We discuss how these failings can be addressed, and what existing information tells us about the key debates on this topic. The evidence available suggests that trade-offs between biodiversity and yield are prevalent. While there are some wildlife-friendly farming systems that support high species richness, a large proportion of wild species cannot survive in even the most benign farming systems. To conserve those species, protection of wild lands will remain essential. Sustainable intensification could help to facilitate sparing of such lands, provided that as much attention is given to protecting habitats as to raising yields. We discuss the general circumstances under which yield increases can facilitate land sparing, recognising that policies and social safeguards will need to be context-specific. In some situations, bringing degraded lands into production could help reduce pressure on wild lands, but much more information is needed on the biodiversity implications of using degraded lands. We conclude that restricting human requirements for land globally will be important in limiting the impacts on biodiversity of increasing food production. To achieve this, society will need to integrate explicit conservation objectives into local, regional and international policies affecting the food system.
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