Paper recommendation: Claire Kremen on land sparing and sharing

By Joern Fischer

Finally: an authoritative must-read paper that provides an in-depth critique on the framework of land sparing versus land sharing. I highly recommend this new paper by Claire Kremen, published in the Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences (and freely available here).

The paper is an impressive synthesis of a vast amount of literature on land sparing and land sharing. While it takes a critical perspective of the framework, it also acknowledges some of the key strengths of the work by the original proponents – including density-based field sampling, and a field design that allows the careful assessment of yield-density relationships.

The paper also addresses numerous other issues that have caused controversy and confusion in the past, including inconsistent terminology, and whether higher-yielding farming will actually spare land for nature. It synthesizes nicely up-to-date insights from a governance perspective, too – showing that without effective environmental governance, higher yielding agriculture may backfire badly on biodiversity conservation. Higher yielding agriculture, by whichever method, thus will not automatically lead to the sparing or land for nature.

I particularly liked the clear critique that there must be a consideration of who is to benefit from potential yield gains achieved. As one of very few leading scientists, Claire Kremen departs from the dominant, largely technocratic perspective that first, we must increase yields, and then worry about how to best distribute the material gains thus achieved. The world doesn’t work like this, and Claire Kremen emphasizes that equity considerations, explicitly accounting for smallholders, need to be part of potential management strategies from the outset.

Finally, I agree with the author that it’s time to come up with a new framework. The framework of land sparing versus land sharing was, and is, useful for focusing the attention of researchers on the intersection of two interrelated issues: food security (or production) and biodiversity conservation. This has been a great contribution, because many ecologists who never would have thought about these issues in combination are now ready to engage with these topics.

But: it’s time to move on, and add the further nuances that are clearly needed – including issues such as governance and equity considerations. The onus here, to my mind, is not on the original proponents of this framework, who did a great job getting an important issue on many, many people’s agendas. Rather, the onus is on the scientific community as a whole to move on: respecting what we have learnt to date, but recognizing that it, alone, will be insufficient to guide future policy or management decisions.

10 thoughts on “Paper recommendation: Claire Kremen on land sparing and sharing

  1. Hm, the link to the paper seems to be broken…


    Ideas for Sustainability wrote on 05 Aug 2015, 10:24: > > Joern posted: “By Joern Fischer Finally: an authoritative must-read > paper that provides an in-depth critique on the framework of land > sparing versus land sharing. I highly recommend this new paper by > Claire Kremen, published in the Annals of the New York Academy of S” >

  2. Thanks Joern – a welcome paper that covers off on a lot of ground and presents some sensible arguments. One thing that has always mystified me slightly about the land sparing approach is the implicit assumption that all land is equal for production and nature…land forms and soil types that are highly productive (flats, lower slopes, deep soils) have different native vegetation and habitat associations (and hence species assemblages) than land forms that are less productive (steep slopes, thin soils). A land sparing approach would clear the majority of productive land and leave lots of native vegetation on steep inaccessible areas…..oh, wait….

    • Hi Simon,

      Indeed that is an excellent point, the ‘thinking’ of the sparing/sharing model implies that all land is equal and that ‘sparing’ happens because production increases in a given location and it is equally likely that such productive land ‘could’ be spared as marginal land. We really are creating models of the world that are more or less useless in understanding the real world.

  3. Reblogged this on AgroEcoPeople and commented:
    I share Joern’s admiration for this excellent recent paper. Though it does leave room for further and deeper engagement on policy issues and political science, it is an amazing synthesis covering numerous issues in the “spare/share” debate and deserves to be widely read.

  4. Thanks Dave and ‘AED’….you know, it really is an important point and one that has simply not been made in any literature that i’ve seen. Do you think we should have a collaborative go at putting together a short note for publication on this very point? The unadulterated ‘sparing’ argument lumbers on, seemingly oblivious of this ‘detail’! Any ideas welcomed, Cheers, Simon

    • I’d certainly be game to try at a piece like this. Indeed, it might be one “worse” than Dave implies: land-sparing doesn’t necessarily assume all land is equal value to conservation. It seems to me that it implies that, by increasing production on existing land, the BEST land for conservation will then be preserved. That, indeed, is the only way it would be regularly preferable to “sharing”–given the argument that any degree of sharing typically reduces conservation value, but this is true compared to relatively “pristine” habitat hosting something like the “full suite” of local biodiversity. The idea that intensifying at Local “Already Degraded” Site A may spare Local “Substantially Also Degraded” Site B has never really entered into their analysis as far as I can see, probabilistically or otherwise.

  5. Yes, you’re absolutely correct – there is this implicit assumption that the best conservation land is on that land which isn’t much use for agriculture…precisely because in many cases, that is the land that is available for conservation anyway! Trying to think of how to show this? Rates of land clearing along an altitudinal gradient (as a surrogate for productive land)? Land clearing by soil types (soil type/land use overlay for countries with available data)? Beta diversity for target taxa between upland and lowland land forms in particular landscapes? Any thoughts welcomed. If you fancy pursuing this further at some point, then please drop me a line. Cheers, Simon

  6. Pingback: Tit for tat on habitat | Gulliver's Pulse

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