By Joern Fischer
Today I’d like to recommend a new paper by Richard Chandler, available here. It’s called A Small-Scale Land-Sparing Approach to Conserving Biological Diversity in Tropical Agricultural Landscapes, and gives us a fresh perspective on land sparing versus land sharing. Comments are welcome of course — when you read my review below, you will find I have never sounded so positive about land sparing before!
This paper may well spark some controversy. It compares land sparing and land sharing systems for coffee in Costa Rica. There are several features of this particular study that set it apart from other, apparently similar studies:
– the land sparing system examined (called integrated open canopy coffee, IOC) includes an institutional mechanism to spare land that is actually in place (rather than being advocated);
– the scale of farms practicing land sparing and land sharing is the same; both sharing and sparing farms are small family farms. This means there is not confounding in which large expanses of intensive farming are being compared with small family farms. From a social perspective, both systems appear (approximately) equal, in that they both involve family farms.
– the limitations are clearly stated, including careful disclaimers about uncritical extrapolation to other systems.
The authors are quite passionate about the potential of IOC farms contributing to substantial restoration and conservation activities.
In summary: yet another study on land sparing versus land sharing, but finally one that examines actual institutional mechanisms, in a context without evident inherent social draw-backs associated with either system. The authors demonstrate that in this particular setting, small-scale land sparing farms more effectively preserve bird diversity than similarly scaled land sharing farms.
This may come as a blow to those supporting shade-coffee systems, but to my mind, the study is well-designed and worth discussing. The comparison of actually existing institutionalised systems, while keeping scale constant, is a real strength.