Land sparing versus land sharing at #ECCB2012

By Joern Fischer

Reporting on my second day from the European Section Meeting of the Society for Conservation Biology … this morning was the symposium on land sparing or land sharing. I was one of the speakers, and I thoroughly enjoyed this session. I found it was one of the highest quality sessions I have recently been to. It could of course be that I’m biased … (no kidding?!) … but seriously, I think all the speakers made really interesting, well articulated points. Sorry if you missed it!

What’s even better: Ben Phalan and I have had exchanged quite a lot of views beyond the session. While some disagreements remain (and will remain), I am very pleased that we were able to exchange thoughts very freely — our “attacks” are on arguments, and not the person, in both directions. Good stuff, I think!

Ben Phalan started the session, talking about the conceptual model by Green et al., as well as outlining his findings from Ghana and India (his Science paper). He very carefully defined what his work could, and could not, show. In terms of internal consistency, I think Ben’s work was very good, and his presentation very nice.

After Ben, I argued that we need to look beyond yields and biodiversity — food systems are a lot more complex, and require us to investigate social-ecological systems in their entirety. My presentation is available here (though I said a fair bit more than what’s on the slides).

Teja Tscharntke gave a fantastic presentation, summarising his recent Biological Conservation paper. He emphasised the importance of smallholder agriculture for food security; the importance of ecosystem services; and the potential role of agroecological intensification. His talk was packed with facts and references, and was extremely authoritative — superb job I think.

Ezter Kovacs then presented a European-wide overview of Europe’s agricultural policy, including the notion of High Nature Value farmland. She showed that much of Europe was in fact land-sharing dominated at present; and that opportunities to spare “wilderness” actually were very limited. As the first speaker in the symposium, she put the focus on Europe.

Johan Ekroos presented a nice conceptual model, showing that how we go about conservation depends on an appropriate definition of  objectives. If we’re trying to conserve rare species, he argued, we may need to spare intact landscapes (in his definition, including low-intensity grasslands). For functionally important species, however, land sharing may be very important.

Tibor Hartel then highlighted that social-ecological systems cannot be “optimised” narrowly with respect to yields. He emphasised the links between people and nature; and the need to maintain or re-create those links. He also showed that the yield gaps identified by Foley et al. for eastern Europe nicely mapped onto HNV farmland …

Finally, Laura Sutcliffe represented Fundatia Adept. She gave a very concise insight about southern Transylvania, showing beyond reasonable doubt that nature and people are closely linked. Land sharing, she argued, provided major opportunities for Romanian agriculture, whereas land sparing provided a major threat.

After the session, many of us went for lunch together; and continued discussions. This one isn’t going to be resolved anytime soon, but there is general agreement that we need to be clear about our objectives — and then we have a chance to move forward. If you look at my presentation (link above), one of my last slides suggests a tentative way forward — identifying our values and objectives; and then using regional social-ecological studies to solve food system problems at this scale. To my mind, there will be no one-size-fits-all solution!

If you attended the session, or did not, but want more debate on this, comment to heart’s content!

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One thought on “Land sparing versus land sharing at #ECCB2012

  1. Pingback: Looking for an alternative perspective on food and biodiversity? | Ideas for Sustainability

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