The land-sharing land-sparing framework (LSLS) addresses the issue of providing food for an ever-growing population, whilst maintaining or improving biodiversity (Kremen, 2015). The first of the two ideas is land-sharing, which combines conservation and wildlife-friendly farming practices within the same area of agricultural land (Phalan et al., 2001). England’s Environmental Stewardship policy promotes this strategy to protect species best adapted to semi-natural habitats (Royal Society, 2014). This approach has also been shown to be beneficial for native vegetation in land sharing systems with grazing sheep, where strategic grazing reduces the need for artificial phosphate fertilisers (Grau et al., 2013; Dorrough et al., 2007).
In contrast, land sparing separates land designated for either agricultural production or conservation (Fischer et al., 2014) – agricultural production is intensified across its current area, preventing its expansion. Land sparing would theoretically ensure land is still reserved for conservation (Fischer et al., 2014). This approach has been tested in India, Ghana and Uganda, where it is suggested to be beneficial to wild bird populations (with 167, 174 and 256 species studied respectively) (Phalan et al., 2001; Hulme et al., 2013).
“If mechanisms to achieve this could be found, most species would have higher populations under land sparing than under land sharing or intermediate-yield farming. This result is consistent across taxa and countries, is robust to varying assumptions” – Phalan et al. (2001)
The LSLS framework has been broadly applied to determine the best way (of the two techniques) in which we can reconcile growing food production needs, whilst also protecting biodiversity (Fischer et al., 2014). However, in reducing what is an incredibly complex issue (encompassing land use, ownership, conservation and other social factors) to the basics of food provision versus biodiversity conservation, many socioeconomic aspects are not fully considered (Wittman et al., 2017; Grau et al., 2013).
There are therefore a number of drawbacks to the LSLS debate. For example, the assumption that food production and the maintenance or enhancement of biodiversity are mutually exclusive, is over-simplified (Wittman et al., 2017). An example of a system which considers both food production and ecosystem integrity is food forestry (McLain et al., 2012). Exemplified by Seattle’s Beacon Food Forest, food forestry can provide a community with a reliable food source, whilst also enhancing valued ecosystem services, such as the generation of soils, carbon sequestration, and increased species richness, on the same plot of land (McLain et al., 2012). This shows the benefits in a holistic approach to managing land.
The LSLS* framework also only focuses on conventionally farmed land, but not all food is grown in arable fields. Increasing production of vegetables is being seen across university campuses, building facades and rooftops in cities around the world (Gritching & Awwaad, 2015), albeit on a smaller scale than conventional agriculture production. This emphasises the need for a new approach, not limited in its scope or its definitions of the usability of land.
“On the basis of my review, I suggest that the dichotomy of the land-sparing/land-sharing framework limits the realm of future possibilities to two, largely undesirable, options for conservation” – Kremen (2015)
*Think of land sparing as a child who separates each component of their meal before eating it, and land sharing as another who mixes all their food together in a big pile (which is much more my style).
One such approach suggested by Kremen (2015) is the “both-and” approach. It focuses land management in terms of three goals: alleviating hunger, restoring natural habitats and enhancing the quality of the surrounding land matrix. This can be translated practically into sustainable land management, a system which “combines technologies, policies and activities to integrate socio-economic principles with environmental concerns” (Smyth & Dumanski, 1993). This has been applied in the Kagera Basin, Rwanda, where farmers trained in managing forests for biodiversity enhancement, as well as maintaining soil quality and water availability (FAO, 2017). The combined implementation of several sustainable management technologies increased food availability and food security, manure production for soil enrichment, and a reduction of 16-17tCO2e per hectare per year across the area (FAO, 2017).
The integration of economic, social and environmental aspects when making land-use decisions (Grau et al., 2013), shows us what can be achieved when we shift our thinking from the perceived trade-offs presented by the current over-simplified approach to land management, to a broader focus on promoting sustainability across all our land. With this approach, we could make real progress in providing food for a growing population without compromising the ecosystems we rely on.
Let me know in the comments what you think – land sparing or land sharing? Something different completely? I’d love to read your opinions.
Dorrough, J., Moll, J. & Crosthwaite, J. (2007) Can intensification of temperate Australian livestock production systems save land for native biodiversity? Agriculture, ecosystems & environment, 121(3), pp.222-232
FAO (2017) Sustainable Land Management (SLM) in practice in the Kagera Basin. Lessons learned for scaling up at landscape level – Results of the Kagera Transboundary Agro-ecosystem Management Project (Kagera TAMP). [online] Available at: http://www.fao.org/3/a-i6085e.pdf (Accessed: 28/07/2020)
FAO (n.d.) Sustainable Land Management. [online] Available at: http://www.fao.org/land-water/land/sustainable-land-management/en/ (Accessed 07/11/2018)
Fischer, J., Abson, D.J., Butsic, V., Chappell, M.J., Ekroos, J., Hanspach, J., Kuemmerle, T., Smith, H.G. & von Wehrden, H. (2014) Land sparing versus land sharing: moving forward. Conservation Letters, 7(3), pp.149-157
Grau, R., Kuemmerle, T. & Macchi, L. (2013) Beyond ‘land sparing versus land sharing’: environmental heterogeneity, globalization and the balance between agricultural production and nature conservation. Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability, 5(5), pp.477-483
Kremen, C. (2015) Reframing the land‐sparing/land‐sharing debate for biodiversity conservation. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1355(1), pp.52-76
McLain, R., Poe, M., Hurley, P.T., Lecompte-Mastenbrook, J. & Emery, M.R. (2012) Producing edible landscapes in Seattle’s urban forest. Urban Forestry & Urban Greening, 11(2), pp.187-194
Phalan, B., Onial, M., Balmford, A. & Green, R.E. (2011) Reconciling food production and biodiversity conservation: land sharing and land sparing compared. Science, 333(6047), pp.1289-1291
Royal Society (2014) Land sharing vs. land sparing: can we feed the world without destroying it? [online] Available at: http://blogs.royalsociety.org/in-verba/2014/12/03/land-sharing-vs-land-sparing-can-we-feed-the-world-without-destroying-it/ (Accessed: 28/07/2020)
Smyth, A.J. & Dumanski, J. (1993) FESLM: An international framework for evaluating sustainable land management. [online] Available at: https://www.mpl.ird.fr/crea/taller-colombia/FAO/AGLL/pdfdocs/feslm.pdf
Wittman, H., Chappell, M.J., Abson, D.J., Kerr, R.B., Blesh, J., Hanspach, J., Perfecto, I., & Fischer, J. (2017) A social–ecological perspective on harmonizing food security and biodiversity conservation. Regional Environmental Change, 17(5), pp.1291-1301.