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Minimising the harm to biodiversity of producing more food globally


  • Phalan, Ben
  • Balmford, Andrew
  • Green, Rhys E.
  • Scharlemann, Jörn P.W.


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.

Suggested Citation

  • Phalan, Ben & Balmford, Andrew & Green, Rhys E. & Scharlemann, Jörn P.W., 2011. "Minimising the harm to biodiversity of producing more food globally," Food Policy, Elsevier, vol. 36(Supplemen), pages 62-71, January.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:jfpoli:v:36:y:2011:i:supplement1:p:s62-s71

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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. repec:eee:forpol:v:84:y:2017:i:c:p:83-91 is not listed on IDEAS
    2. repec:gam:jlands:v:6:y:2017:i:4:p:67-:d:114115 is not listed on IDEAS
    3. Kragt, M.E. & Gibson, F.L. & Maseyk, F. & Wilson, K.A., 2016. "Public willingness to pay for carbon farming and its co-benefits," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 126(C), pages 125-131.
    4. Gardner, Toby A. & Ferreira, J. & Barlow, J. & Lees, A. C. & Parry, L. & Vieira, I. C. G. & Berenguer, E. & Abramovay, R. & Aleixo, A. & Andretti, C. & Aragao, L. E. O. C. & Araujo, I. & de Avila, W. , 2013. "A social and ecological assessment of tropical land uses at multiple scales: the Sustainable amazon network," LSE Research Online Documents on Economics 50120, London School of Economics and Political Science, LSE Library.
    5. Desquilbet, Marion & Dorin, Bruno & Couvet, Denis, 2013. "Land sharing vs. land sparing for biodiversity: How agricultural markets make the difference," TSE Working Papers 13-435, Toulouse School of Economics (TSE), revised Oct 2015.
    6. Hickey, Gordon M. & Pouliot, Mariève & Smith-Hall, Carsten & Wunder, Sven & Nielsen, Martin R., 2016. "Quantifying the economic contribution of wild food harvests to rural livelihoods: A global-comparative analysis," Food Policy, Elsevier, vol. 62(C), pages 122-132.
    7. Ickowitz, Amy & Powell, Bronwen & Salim, Mohammad & Sunderland, Terry, 2013. "Dietary quality and tree cover in Africa," MPRA Paper 52906, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    8. Alan Matthews, 2012. "Greening the Cap: The Way Forward," QA - Rivista dell'Associazione Rossi-Doria, Associazione Rossi Doria, issue 4, December.
    9. van Wijk, Mark T., 2014. "From global economic modelling to household level analyses of food security and sustainability: How big is the gap and can we bridge it?," Food Policy, Elsevier, vol. 49(P2), pages 378-388.
    10. Devan Allen McGranahan, 2014. "Ecologies of Scale: Multifunctionality Connects Conservation and Agriculture across Fields, Farms, and Landscapes," Land, MDPI, Open Access Journal, vol. 3(3), pages 1-31, July.
    11. repec:idb:brikps:64718 is not listed on IDEAS


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