Knowledge for better food systems

Changing agriculture and environment conversation

In this Nature Comment article, Elena Bennett of the McGill School of Environment and the Department of Natural Resource Sciences, Québec, argues against the underlying premise of the ‘land-sparing’ vs ‘land-sharing’ debate that has dominated the agriculture-environment discourse for decades, and advocates a new and more holistic approach that focuses on maximising human well-being.

Currently, land-sparing and land-sharing are two of the most prominent schools of thought concerning the relationship between agricultural production and biodiversity. Advocates of the former approach believe that the best solution to maximising food production sustainably is to promote high-yielding intensive agriculture on as small a land footprint as possible, ‘sparing’ more physical space for biodiversity and conservation. Advocates of the latter approach, on the other hand, believe that agriculture should be less intensive and that the (larger amount of) land used for this extensive agriculture should be farmed in a wildlife-friendly way; i.e. ‘shared’ with biodiversity.

Dr. Bennett, however, argues that the reason no agreement or conclusion has ever been reached in this debate is that it presents a false choice between two extreme ‘solutions,’ neither of which address the complexity of food security beyond food supply, nor of ecosystem services beyond biodiversity. Instead, Dr. Bennett poses some new, more nuanced, questions to ask, which amount to: ‘What ecosystem services are important and which can we promote in the landscape to best improve human well-being, now and in the future?’. Although lacking detailed actionable suggestions, this article provides a much-needed critique of the overly reductionist ‘food vs. biodiversity’ debate that pervades agricultural and environmental thought.


The land sharing/sparing debate has stagnated. Finding a way forward requires that we ask new questions and, crucially, focus on human well-being and ecosystem services.


Bennett, E.M. (2017). Changing the agriculture and environment conversation. Nature Ecology & Evolution, 1, p.18

Read the full article here.

NB: We have started a Forum discussion based on this article and we really encourage you to take a look at the commetns posted and contribute with your own thoughts. See the forum discussion: Land-sharing vs. land-sparing debate – moving towards a more constructive conversation about agriculture and the environment?

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While some of the food system challenges facing humanity are local, in an interconnected world, adopting a global perspective is essential. Many environmental issues, such as climate change, need supranational commitments and action to be addressed effectively. Due to ever increasing global trade flows, prices of commodities are connected through space; a drought in Romania may thus increase the price of wheat in Zimbabwe.

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